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Vimy 2017-Reflections

The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present-David Thelen

Do you ever wonder how these quotes become famous quotes? Do people set out to generate them, or are there people sitting around waiting for them to be said? Is there a committee that decides what is or isn’t a good quote? Who votes on them…is there a quotes academy? Okay, okay, I’m obviously being very facetious. The whole point of the quote from Thelen, who is an American History professor (I had to Google it), is that teaching history is not easy. One of the best ways to do it, is to have people experience it firsthand.

Well, it’s hard to believe that it has already been a week and a half since we returned from the trip. But I guess time moves just as fast when you’re not on a trip as it does when you are. We were very busy on the trip and it’s been even crazier now trying to catch up on everything while we were away. I’ve never missed 7 days of work before and I sure paid for it. There was a whole stack of marking I needed to get through, especially since midterm marks were due. I’m mostly caught up now, but I’m glad I hopefully won’t be missing that much school again in the future.

My return to real life and work was made that much more challenging by how jet lagged and exhausted I felt when we returned. I know, I know, poor me! I did get the gears from a lot of people who read this blog during the trip and asked me about how tired I was. How tired were you Dave? Really tired? The reality is I was tired…that’s why I wrote it. Duh. I realize I was in Europe and not at work, but these excursions are not your run-of-the-mill let’s jump on a plane and see some stuff type of vacation. First, I am the group leader and ultimately responsible for the 23 students we had with us. That is a tad bit stressful; when you’re teaching, the kids go home to their parents at the end of the day and you’re not on duty 24/7. Secondly, these trips are very busy and they try to pack in as many things as they can. So ya, I was up some days at 0500 and getting to bed, albeit because I was working on this blog, after midnight. I did try to nap some on the bus, but I like to see some of the sights and don’t want to sleep it all away.

In any case, it was a great trip. The kids really enjoyed themselves and hopefully learned a lot more about the history and culture of the world. I can honestly say, even though this was my third trip, that I learned a lot too. Even though the three trips were relatively similar, and there were some repetitive things, you experience new stuff. Amsterdam and Paris are so big, that there is so much still to discover. Besides those two places, we’ve never stayed in the same city twice, which is amazing. I have now seen Rouen, Amiens, Valenciennes, Colombiers-sur-Seulles, Lille and Honfleur. Each has it’s unique features, architecture, history and culture. In my personal opinion, while Paris is an amazing city, I much prefer the those smaller cities for their distinct charm and character. Maybe someday I’ll be able to explore them at a much more leisurely pace.

The whole crew in Honfleur, April 2017.

One of the things people often ask me is what was my most memorable memory or moment from the trip. That is always a difficult question, as there are so many. If I have to pick something, I would have to say it’s not one thing in particular, but rather watching the reactions of the kids. I mentioned before it’s a huge step for many of them, and for most their first experience with European culture. It’s akin to what I’ve experienced with my own kids, just they’re not mine…that sense of awe and wonder. It’s heartening to hear them talk about coming back and exploring more of the great places we visited. I was also blessed to be able to travel with a great group of chaperones, who shared my excitement and my stresses. I’m already looking forward to our next adventure! Our EF Tour Director, Jason, was the icing on the cake. His professionalism, easy-going manner and silky-smooth commentary put everyone at ease. The kids loved him and still talk about how great he was.

St. Patrick crew, April 2017.

So what about the bad Dave? I guess I can say there was really only one bad experience that I had. I thought the whole Vimy commemoration was good, though as I already described, more festive than I anticipated, especially compared to the 95th anniversary. I guess that will happen when there’s 25,000 people and lots of VIPs there. I thought the early part of the day was well planned and went very smoothly, but not the second half. I don’t think they (they being Veterans Affairs Canada, who were in charge of the event) anticipated the impact of having so many people squished into such a small area would mean.

In retrospect, we did have it easier than some groups, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. It only took us about 1.5 hours to get through the line to the shuttle buses, but no one thought to put any facilities in the assembly areas (or at least ours in Lens) so people could go to the bathroom. The poor employees at the MacDonald’s beside the parking lot must have had a rough day. At the memorial, I thought there should have been people directing traffic and making sure some areas did not get too congested. The fenced in area on the front side of the monument became so packed you could not move, and there were nowhere enough toilets for all the people (I tried going at one point, but couldn’t find the end of the line). Many stopped drinking water, which was not a good thing on such a warm day, so they wouldn’t have to go (myself included).

The exfil (to use the military term for exfiltration) from the site was an absolute gong show. People near the front began streaming up and over the monument to get out, while those at the back, including us, were trapped because they would not open gate to the main entrance. It seems as though transporting some of the minor VIPs took precedence over the thousands of people who had been baking in the sun for hours. Someone or some people broke down a portion of the fence and there was a mad rush for the opening. It was utter pandemonium! It was fortunate no one was trampled, but it was a nightmare trying to keep the group together. The scary part was realizing, as we surged along with the crowd, that we were walking through a part of the site that is off-limits due to UXO. Yes, people (myself included) were walking through fields with unexploded munitions in them! They don’t even cut the grass in those areas, but rather use goats to keep the vegetation down due to their lower ground pressure.

Thankfully we had told the kids where to go to catch the shuttle back to the assembly areas. It was insane, but we managed to get most of the kids rounded up in one big group, with one chaperone and a few students slightly separated. Getting on the shuttle created a lot of anxiety and some tears, but by 2030 we were all on our bus, Big Green, and heading back to Lille. We didn’t find out until later that it took some groups until midnight to make it back to the assembly areas. That’s nuts! Anyway, we got everyone out and I don’t think we’ll be involved in an event like that again. But it will be something that we all remember for the rest of our lives. Alright, so that was only four paragraphs of ranting!

From a personal perspective, my only issue, as it always has been, is leaving my family behind. I know my boys missed me, and it does put a lot on my wife, especially since I was gone for 11 days. I certainly appreciate everything she did during that time. If there is one positive to my absence, it has generated a lot of interest in the boys to see these places as well. I have promised them I will take them on a tour when they get to St. Pats.

All griping aside, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. While the Vimy ceremony wasn’t as solemn as I anticipated, there were many opportunities for us to have an intimate view of history. The place that probably generated the most reflection and emotion was the Bretteville-sur-Laize Cemetery in Cintheaux, south of Caen. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were relatively alone there, as opposed to the tens or even hundreds of people at the other places we visited. When it touches close and becomes personal, the impact of the history is much greater.

Newfoundland Memorial, Beaumont Hamel, April 2017.

Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, April 2017.

Now speaking of which, we are planning to do it all again, hopefully in two years. We would like to change it up a bit, maybe see a few new places in the process. We’ve submitted our application to go during March break of 2019, but haven’t settled on an exact tour yet. One option would take us to Berlin, some different parts of the Netherlands and then Vimy, Normandy and Paris. The second is a complete break, focusing on the Italian battlefields. We’re leaning towards one, but we’ll make a final decision once the paperwork is (hopefully) approved. Wherever we go, it will be an amazing experience for the kids just like every other trip.

Anyway, it’s time to wrap this up. Now that things are getting back to normal, I’ll be back with my usual blog posts soon enough. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2017 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 11

Day 11 ladies and gentlemen. Time to go home. It’s amazing how fast times flies when you’re on a trip. I guess that’s why they pack so many things on to the agenda; if you did a tour like this at a leisurely pace, you’d never see anything. The only problem is now I need a vacation from the vacation. I’m obviously tired, there isn’t anyone who isn’t, but I’m sure I’d be better if my throat wasn’t so sore. Damn cold!

Alright, we’re in the air on our way back to Canada. I feel a bit better now that all of the kids and chaperones on are the plane. We had this morning, for lack of a better term, a gong show departure. Somehow we ended up with a bus for 49 people, but there 50 of us including Jason. On top of that, the luggage compartment wouldn’t hold all the bags, so not only did one person have to share a seat, we had to put about 10 bags in the aisle of the bus. When we arrived at CDG (Charles DeGaulle Airport), our bus driver couldn’t figure out how to get us to Terminal 2A. We, the tourists, had to point him in the right direction.

Inside terminal, it was a slow process getting checked in as the computers at Air Canada were glitchy. There were long lines at customs and security, so we made it to the gate just before boarding, albeit in groups or varying size. I’m trying to relax now as much as I can, since issues in Canada are much easier to deal with. Happy thoughts. I’m watching Rogue One (yay) and they are starting to serve lunch which will help. We’re approaching the coast of France…only 5800k to go!

Airport selfies, April 2017.

Airport selfies, April 2017.

Okay, lunch just came and went. It’s was much better than the last time; I’m in row 21, so I managed to snag some chicken. I didn’t care for the quinoa? salad, but the carrots and potatoes with it were good. We have six hours more flying time to Toronto, so I’m going to grab a nap when the movie is done. We’re on a 777-300, which seems fairly new and high tech, but steerage seems more cramped than the A330 we came on. I’m in a row with Stewart and Dawson, three bigger guys, and we’re shoulder to shoulder almost. I should be interesting try to get comfortable to sleep. Any case, I’m going to wrap it up so I can finish the movie.

Hey, I’m back, and guess what, we’re in Canada? Well, technically we’re in Canadian airspace, but I’ll take it. I don’t know how long I was asleep, but I do feel better. According to my nice little LED screen in front of me, we just passed over St. John’s, Newfoundland. We’ve flown over 4000km and have 2100km to go. We’ll land just after 1300, so that means we still have over 2.5 hours to go. I’ll be happy when we’re off the plane as I’m still feeling incredibly squished. In Toronto we have a 4 hour layover, so I’ll write more then; it’s hard to type on the screen (my Bluetooth keyboard won’t work on the plane) and I can’t move my arms properly.

Back over Canada, April 2017.

So we’re back in the air for the last leg of our journey back to Thunder Bay. It seems so surreal how fast one can move around; this morning we were in Paris and shortly we will be home. It certainly gives you a good idea of how small our world has become. In any case, it will be good to go back reality, even for the kids. Almost all that I talked, even though they are sad about the end of the trip, really want to see their families. And as great as they have been and as much as we have enjoyed travelling with them, the chaperones will be happy to be off 24/7 teaching duties. It’s rewarding, but very tiring.

On the way home, April 2017.

Speaking of the kids on the trip, I think that travelling like this has so many rewards beyond just seeing the sites of Europe. I already mentioned that for many, this was their first time away from their parents. All of them learned a lot about themselves, about being independent and responsible and that sometimes you need to take chances and try new things. Ya, riding the Metro is a bit scary and intimidating, but so is life. Trips like this not only teach academic things, but also life lessons.

One of the more interesting things that happen on these trips are the friendships that are formed. We have students from different backgrounds, different social groups and even different high schools, but after some initial hestitation, it’s neat to see them come together. Some may have even formed new long-term friendships. Even for us as teachers, we get to see the kids in a whole different light and it gives us a greater appreciation of who they are as individuals. I know that they are thankful for the time and energy it takes to plan a trip such as this and the fact we have to be away from our own families to do it. Being a stand in parent for a week and half is challenging, but dad, mom (Ms. Caza) and Uncle Marcon would it all again in a heartbeat.

It’s after 2100, we landed safe and sound and everyone is now at home with their families. It has been another long day; my body is still on Paris time and it is the middle of the night. I know it will take me a while to get back into the usual routine. On that note, I’m going to sign off. I’ll be back in a few days with some final thoughts on the trip after I have had some time to digest it all. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 10

Day 10 kids and guess what? You probably guessed wrong, so I’ll tell you…I’m sick. Ugh, I knew this would happen. You get rundown physically, your immune system can’t keep up and bam! My throat is a bit sore and I can feel it in my lungs. It’s okay, I’ll tough it out (really, what else am I going to do). It’s the Dadistel way right?

Today is our last full day on tour…it’s very fitting that it’s Good Friday, the most solemn day in the Christian calendar. I think there are a lot of mixed emotions; it’s sad to be on the last day of the tour, but I think for a lot of us maybe it’s time to start thinking about home. I know that I miss my wife and my kids and it would be nice to see them again. Our agenda this morning starts with a bus tour of the city of Paris, followed by a pizza lunch, the Louvre and then whatever we have time for.

The bus tour was great as always. Our tour guide was Stephanie, who was very knowledgable about the sites. After about an hour of driving, we stopped at Les Invalides for a break and a photo op. From there we drove to Place de Trocadero, which is “the” place to get photos of the Eiffel Tower. Back on the bus, our final stop was the Arc di Triomphe on the Champs-Élysées. Leaving Stephanie and the bus behind, we got an up-close view of this amazing landmark before leaving for lunch.

Les Invalides selfie, April 2017.

Eiffel Tower selfie, April 2017.

Arc de Triomphe, April 2017.

Lunch today was covered by EF and was at a place we had eaten on previous tours, Flamme’s. I didn’t realize it was a chain, and the location we ate at was not the one we’ve visited before. Flamme’s is short for Flammekueche, which is an Alascian style pizza. It has a very thin crust, and is topped with some form of white sauce and various meats and veggies (bacon, onions and mushrooms). It’s all you can eat, which I know the kids appreciated. It was finished off with caramel, chocolate and apple desert flammekueche, which was delicious.

Flammekueche, April 2017.

Flammekueche, April 2017.

After lunch we walked the two kilometres or so from the restaurant to the Louvre. It’s was very pretty in the warm temperatures and vibrant colours of spring through the Tuileries Garden. Unfortunately our visit to the Louvre was extremely brief; two hours is only enough time to see a few things in the enormous museum. Since I was there twice already, I followed Ms. Caza on her mandatory journey to see the Mona Lisa.

Louvre, April 2017.

Louvre, April 2017.

We’re on the bus heading away from Paris…it’s always sad on the last day leaving the city. It was a nice end to the day. From the Louvre, we walked a short distance to Notre Dame Basilica. It is such a beautiful church, which made a big impression on the kids. I’ve been there on two other occasions and I’m still struck every time. The only thing that has changed is the security around the basilica, with police checkpoints and armed military patrols in the square. It’s a sad reality of the times we live in.

Notre Dame Basilica, April 2017.

Charlemagne, April 2017.

From Notre Dame we hopped the Metro to our restaurant for dinner. This by far was our most stressful ride. It was packed, and more people kept coming on the car my group of 9 were in. When we got to our station, Gard du Nord, we had to push our way out of the car; the kids followed my instructions to a tee-polite and aggressive. Dinner tonight was at L’Orange Vert, a short distance from the Metro station. It was okay; salad, carrots and a type of Sheperd’s Pie. After dinner we walked to our pick up point for the bus transfer back to the hotel.

It was a long, but productive day. According to those wearing Fitbits, we did upwards of 23,000 steps. My legs, ankles and feet are killing me! I guess I’ll have lots of time to rest them on our flights back home tomorrow. On that note, I better turn in. I still feel crappy and it will be another long day. I’ll be blogging the whole way home so I’ll be back tomorrow night with all final news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 9

Day 9 Mes Amies. The engine turned over this morning but she’s running a little rough. I slept well, though I woke up at 0500 and couldn’t fall back asleep. I could certainly use more time in bed, but c’est la vie. Today is going to be a very busy day and I am going to need every ounce of energy I can scrape up. Hopefully breakfast is good; based on this hotel, I have my fingers crossed.

So today’s adventure is going to take us first to Versailles, which is southwest of Paris. A bus will take us into the city, and from there we will take the train, the RER, to Versailles. I’ve never been there before, so I am quite excited to see it. I have taught about it a lot both in Grade 10 history (Treaty or Versailles) and in Grade 12 history (Louis XIV). That visit should chew up most of our day.

We’re off on the first adventure of the day as we are on the RER train to Versailles. It was quite interesting purchasing the tickets and then trying to get on the train as it moved down the platform. I think it was very eye-opening for a lot of the kids who have never done it before. However I guess there’s a first time for everything and I’m sure it won’t be the last for a lot of them. It’s a nice little introduction to our later rides on the Metro.

Team Battistel, April 2017.

Now we’re in the queue to get into the Palace of Versailles. We’ve been waiting here for just over an hour and we’re almost at the gate. The lines here are enormous; fortunately the clouds have rolled in a bit and it’s not as hot and scorching as it was a little while ago. We should have approximately 2 1/2 hours to look through Versaillies and some of the grounds before we have to head back on the train to Les Invalides. It’s kind a neat the people that you meet while waiting in line. We had a lengthy conversation with a French couple who were curious to know why Canadians were here in France. Breaching the language barrier is always an interesting and fun part of the conversation.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

It’s 2130 and we’re on the bus heading back to our hotel outside of Paris. What a long but fruitful day. Myself and everyone else I’m sure is pretty tired. Versailles was amazing! I’ve seen many programs on Versailles and taught about it for many years but it’s something else to see it in person. The size of the structure and the grounds are simply amazing. The opulence of the inside is indescribable. One can understand why the masses revolted against excesses of the French royalty. The only negative from the visit was the number of people at the site. It took us more than an hour to get in and I felt like cattle being herded through the various buildings and attractions. I would definitely go back, but I’d try to go on a day with less people or maybe earlier in the morning.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

Royal Chapel, Versailles, April 2017.

Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, April 2017.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

After we finished at Versailles, we had to jump back on the train and meet Jason at Les Invalides Station. From there we hopped on the Metro to our dinner location. This is something that many of the chaperones as well as the students were concerned about. It can be tricky to move such a large group of people on and off the subway cars. Dinner was at Le Beouf gros sel and consisted of penne with chicken, which I demolished since I didn’t have any lunch.

After eating, it was back on the Metro, with a transfer in between, to our next destination which was the Pont Neuf Bridge. There we would be taking a cruise along the Seine River at dusk to see the sites of Paris. It was 12€ well spent, as the kids really enjoyed this tour. Even though I had done it before, I found it interesting all over again. The only thing that didn’t go right was a few St. Ignatius girls getting drenched by a wave thrown up by a passing boat. They were able to laugh it off and so did we.

Eiffel Tower, April 2017.

Pont Neuf, April 2017.

Notre Dame Cathedral, April 2017.

Today was another day of firsts; first train ride for many, first Metro ride for many and first time the chaperones took the group out without the tour director. I’d say it was a pretty successful day. Jason even commended us on how, with a very large group, we were able to navigate the Metro with a fair amount of competence. Let’s hope it continues tomorrow.

I need to run. It’s almost midnight now and we have an even earlier day tomorrow. It’s sad that tomorrow is our last day here, but will make the most of it. I’ll be back tomorrow with all the details. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 8

Day 8 Les Enfants. Even though I am still tired and could have stayed in bed a whole lot longer, I am not a complete zombie and have some vague human semblance. Since we roll out at later time today, maybe that extra hour of sleep helped. Who knows. In any case, I feel better. Maybe it’s because with a better wifi connection, I was able to FaceTime my family last night. As much fun as we’re having gallivanting around Northern Europe, I do miss them.

Okay, we’re on the bus now, making our way to Juno Beach. The whole group was enchanted with the town of Honfleur. What a gorgeous place! It’s almost so picturesque and idyllic that it you can mistake it for fake; Ms. Caza thinks it’s a place you could fall in love in. We walked along the harbourfront to St. Catherine’s Church, which had such an amazing architecture. Except for the foundation, the whole church was made of wood, which is very unusual. It’s shaped like an inverted ship and the inside was breathtaking. I wish we had more time to take it in.

St. Catherine Church, Honfleur, April 2017.

St. Catherine Church, Honfleur, April 2017.

Afterwards we broke up for a little bit and gave the kids a chance to wander around. I did grab some local honey outside the church in the farmers market and then spent most of my time taking pictures. It is certainly a photographers delight. On our way back to the bus, Jason took us through the oldest part of the town and it was amazing. The authentic, narrow cobblestone streets with the gutter running down the middle was something to see. You could tell the buildings were original by their construction and the aging of the wood. I’m glad we went into the town and I would definitely go back some day.

Honfleur, April 2017.

Vimy group, Honfleur, April 2017.

So we are now on the road to the city of Paris…the kids are all excited! Our visit to Normandy was was fantastic, and filled with many new things. The first stop was at the Juno Beach Centre in Courselles-sur-Mer. It’s a neat place, but I’ve seen it twice before, so I went through as quickly as possible. I did spend some time in the gift shop, as I always get the boys a shirt. I was a little challenging trying to find them something, especially Noah, since they really didn’t have any kids sizes. From there it was outside to take a look at the German bunkers and the beach.

The area where the centre is located is at Mike Red Sector, which was assaulted by the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, with the support of tanks from the 1st Hussars. In the past there was one bunker, which you couldn’t see much of due to restricted access. In 2014, they began excavation on another bunker, which is now open to the public. It was really interesting to walk through. The beach was okay, though the tide was up and there was not much to see.

From the Juno Beach Centre we took a short bus ride 5 minutes to the east to Bernieres-sur-Mer. There we had a short walk along the sea wall on what was once Nan White Sector. Assaulted by troops from the Queen’s Own Rifles, this area saw the most intense fighting on June 6, with the QOR taking heavy casualties to capture the beach. The area features a German bunker on the east side of the sector and “Canada House” on the west. Canada House was the first structure captured by Allied troops on D-Day.

Nan White Sector, Bernieres, April 2017.

Canada House, Bernieres, April 2017.

St. Pats group, April 2017.

We jumped on the bus for another short ride east again to St. Aubin-sur-Mer, site of Nan Red Sector. On D-Day, troops from New Brunswick’s North Shore Regiment landed there. Our visit was primarily based on our need to satisfy our gastric desires. We did find some places to eat, but there was also history to see as well. Just like Bernieres, there is a German bunker on the beach, this one featuring a 50mm anti-tank gun. According to the plaque, it knocked out several tanks from the Fort Garry Horse before other tanks silenced it.

We had been to Bernieres on both previous trips, but never to St. Aubin. What a pretty little town! There were many picturesque buildings along the promenade and in the town. Before and after we ate, I spent a lot of time taking pictures and shooting video. The tide was going out, so there was a lot of room on the beach to wander. I would definitely go back in a heartbeat, maybe with more time to look around. That holds true for the whole Juno Beach area.

Nan Red Sector, St. Aubin, April 2017.

It’s almost 2300 and the end of a long day. Sometimes you forget how much of a whirlwind these EF Tours can be. This morning we were in Normandy, and now we’re in Paris. Our hotel is some 50km from downtown Paris, but it’s in a very nice area near Disneyland. After our arrival, we quickly went to our rooms and headed over to a nearby mall to try and grab a bite to eat. While the stores were closed, the restaurants were quite busy and there was a lot of options to chose from. It was a nice way to end the evening.

Anyway, I need to go check on the kids before turning in myself. We have a very busy day tomorrow; the commute, Versailles, dinner and a river cruise. I’m sure there will be a lot to talk about in the next post. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 7

Day 7 boys and girls. Yes, I’m a little more awake today, but barely. I still feel like I’ve been run over by a dump truck, but at least I got some sleep. The key is to be so comatose that you blackout the moment your head hits the pillow; I’m not sure if that is good or bad. We’ll see how tonight goes for a full scientific assessment.

Okay, we’re on the bus, heading toward Normandy. It’s another beautiful morning and it should be a relatively nice in the Calvados region. This is the point where, for the most part, we switch emphasis on the tour. So far we have been visiting sites associated with World War I, but today and tomorrow we will be focussing on World War II. We also see more of the French countryside, and Normandy is a particularly scenic place.

So after two hours of driving and a mandated 45 minute stop, we’re back on the road. We pulled into a Shell Station east of Rouen literally 5 minutes before a bunch of other buses showed up. What fortuitous timing! However, it does make you realize how many other groups are doing the same thing you are. With 260+ EF groups, I would imagine that there are quite a number doing the Beaches & Battlefields Tour; Arromanches is going to be overrun by Canadian teenagers today!

Gas station selfie, April 2017.

We’re back on the bus after a get on get off day. We rolled into Arromanches just after 1300 and made our way down to the main strip just behind the beach. Arromanches is a pretty little town, maybe a little too commercialized, but nice nonetheless. On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, it was the site of the Gold Beach, which was assaulted by the British 50th Division. Once it was secure, engineers began construction on the Mulberry, one of two artificial harbours created by the Allies to land supplies. Reminants of the concrete sections are still visible in water, but unfortunately the tide was too high for us to walk out for up close visit.

Myself and Ms. Caza wandered around to some of shops and picked up a few things for our kids. I’m sure the food and souvenir retails made a killing with all the Canadians wandering around. After just over an hour in the town, we hopped on to the bus for a short 5 minute (well, we did get lost, so it was more like 15 minutes) ride to a theatre to watch a short 360 degree movie on the Normandy Campaign. It was a well done film.

Arromanches, April 2017.

Arromanches, April 2017.

From Arromanches we drove 45 minutes to the southeast, past the city of Caen to the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery. It’s one of the two Canadian cemerties in Normandy, and contains the graves of over 2900 Canadians, mostly killed fighting in July and August 1944. We held our usual prayer service at the Cross of Sacrifice, and then proceeded to visit the graves of our assigned soldiers. We decided to have the kids visit those belonging to the Lake Superior Regiment, which was from the Lakehead. Today, it is perpetuated by the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment, which I served in during my teens.

Compared to our stop at Tyne Cot, this was a much more intimate and personal visit. Save for a couple of other people, we were the only ones there; it is certainly a sad and lonely place. However, the very act of remembrance that the students carried out brought life to the sadness, for it is through our youth that their memory lives on. The students were very moved by the cemeteries. I find the WWII cemeteries much more personal as most of the graves are identified and bear family inscriptions. They convey, in words, the immense loss and sorrow felt by the families of

 

those that fell. They cut very deep and I always get emotional, as were many of the kids. It is so unfortunate that many of the mothers, fathers, spouses and children of those interred at Bretteville were never able to mourn their loss in person.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

In about 40 minutes we’ll arrive in Honfleur, our last destination of the day. It is located northeast of Caen, just up the Channel coast. It’s a small fishing town of approximately 8100 people, but apparently very picturesque. We are for sure going for a quick visit tomorrow and maybe even tonight. We’ll see how things go once we finish dinner.

Dinner tonight at our hotel in Honfleur was fantastic. They faked us out a bit first by bringing salad and some quiche; we thought that was it. However, they rolled out a full plate of roasted chicken and potatoes as a second course, which were awesome. It was by far the best meal on the trip so far. The hotel is quite interesting, more like a motel, with the doors opening out in a dual-building, two-storey configuration. We were a bit worried about how we would keep the kids contained, but they seem to be respecting the boundaries so far. We did a room check and many are already prepped for bed. They know tomorrow will be another busy day, with visits to Honfleur, Juno Beach and our transfer to Paris.

Well, it’s time to turn in. We are not leaving as early as we have been the last few days, but I’d to get up well before the kids so I can shave. My hair is starting to look a little hippyish. The wifi here in Honfleur is decent, so I’m hoping it’s just as good in Paris, so I should be back tomorrow with more news and photos. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 6

Day 6 everyone. Yep, no smart@ss remarks this morning. Tired. Very tired. Too tired to think of clever adjectives or metaphors to describe the tired. I feel, and probably look, like an extra from the walking dead. Why you ask? I think I was still feeling the effects from yesterday’s ordeal in the sun, which has left me with nice burns around my neck (from the camera strap) and right behind my knees (the direct result of going in shorts yesterday). My roommate, who shall remain nameless, can also rouse said undead from miles away with their snoring. Oops, sorry, almost fell asleep trying to write the next sentence.

Alright, so we’re now on the bus toward Albert and rendezvous with the Basilica for mass. It’s about an hour away, so it gives me some time to reflect on our day yesterday. After sleeping on it, I still feel that there was more of a festive feel to Vimy 100. To me, I would equate it to Canada Day than to Remembrance Day. I think that the solemnity was somewhat missing, but that is going to happen with big events such as this. However, there was some semblance of what occurred at Vimy. We were sitting beside a group from Halifax and had a chance to chat with them. There were so many Canadians from all over the country, it was a real representation of the spirit of Vimy.

We’re back on the bus after mass at Notre Dame des Brebieres. What a beautiful church. The parish priest was very friendly and appreciative of our visit. Unfortunately he did not speak good English, so we had to put some of our French Immersion students to work. The mass was quaint even though many of us could only vaguely follow along. St. Ignatius students Madison and Brooklyn, along with our student Braeden, helped with the readings. Afterwards, the priest thanked us for coming to mass and we were able to grab photos of the church. On my way out, I had a interesting conversation with a few French ladies in my broken French. My Italian instincts kept kicking in and instead of “oui,” I kept answering “si.” Oh well, I think they got the idea.

Notre Dame des Brebieres, April 2017.

Notre Dame des Brebieres, April 2017.

A short drive later, we were at the Beaumont Hamel National Monument. It honours the sacrifice of the Newfoundland Regiment on July 1, 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. Their contribution to the battle lasted mere minutes, with the unit suffering 85% casualties in an attempt to capture the German trenches. After the war, it was decided to preserve a portion of the battlefield in honour of the Newfoundlanders contribution to the war. One can walk through parts of the trenches, see other trench remains, visit a number of cemeteries and take in the memorial. Even though there were quite a number of groups at the site, it gave our students a much more intimate tour of a battlefield.

Newfoundland Memorial, April 2017.

Newfoundland fallen, Paril 2017.

We’re on our way back to the hotel in Lille after spending quite a bit of time in Arras. What a gorgeous city! The kids had several hours to walk around the city centre, shop and grab some food. I really enjoyed the architecture; I sent photos to my brother, who is an architect, as I thought he would appreciate the designs of the various buildings. Afterwards, we walked a short distance to the Artois Expo, which was run by EF. They had all kinds of displays and interactive booths for travellers to explore regarding WWI. It was a well put together exhibit. Kudos to EF!

Arras City Centre, April 2017.

After dinner, which was in the hotel again, we decided to take a little walk into downtown Lille. It was a nice way to end the day and keep the kids busy. Our Tour Director Jason indicated to us that Lille would be different from places like Ypres and Arras, much more cosmopolitan. It certainly was, but also had much of that old European cultural charm. We were able to see some great architecture and a bit of the nightlife of the city. I think everyone enjoyed the evening out.

Lille City Centre, April 2017.

Well, I think it’s time to retire for the evening. We have another busy day tomorrow. The bus leaves early as we are making our way to the Normandy region, which is about 4 hours away. We will visit Arromanches on the coast and then the Bretteville-sur-Laize Cemetery. I better turn it before it gets too late-back tomorrow. Until then…

 

 

http://www.worldwar1.com/heritage/leaningv.htm

 

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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