Our first motorhoming trip of 2009 was a two week visit to France. After three months at home we felt the need to get back into the swing of being on the road again and to ensure that we had reloaded the van with all our equipment after the winter. Unusually for us we would actually tour around in the van during this trip so we have mentioned car parking where appropriate.
Our theme on this visit was to see the World War 1 sites - cemeteries monuments and museums. This is not because we have any military connections but had heard that it would be an interesting and informative tour and it certainly was. We can only touch upon what we saw but recommend a visit to this area. We had a very good trip - although somewhat sombre at times when the full horror and waste of World War 1 becomes clear as you travel around.
The photo on above is taken from the top of the Canadian memorial, which is also shown in the photo below.
Our aim was to save money now that the pound has fallen so much against the euro. We stayed on aires in Calais (7euro if the man comes around to collect) Le Crotoy in Baie de Somme (5 euro a night, although the machine was broken when we visited) St Valery sur Somme (7 euro a night) Amiens (free) Arques (2 euro a night). For a few nights we stayed in campsites, these cost around 20 euro a night early in the season We also limited ourselves by self catering, 8 euro for two coffees in Lille reminded us that europe has got a lot more expensive and that we need to frame the receipt as a reminder.
Our first stop on our tour was the Australian memorial at Villers-Bretonneux and Le Hamel, although the latter only briefly because the barrier was about to go down at 4 pm. The Aussie memorial is a big white Lutyens tower with long side walls for the names of the thousands who died, and rows of gravestones in front. Quiet, peaceful, dignified and moving. The memorial was only completed in 1938 and the facade is pock-marked with bullets from ww2 - it cannot have been a real wartime target so assume that it was German soldiers taking pot shots.
There is no car park here but we were able to park our van in the layby just off the road, space is limited and it could be problematic in the summer.
Our next stop was the Great War Museum at Peronne. Well laid out and very informative, probably the best museum to visit in the Somme. There is a charge at this museum of seven euro (reductions for oldies). There is a car park which should provide adequate space for motorhomes although on the day we went there was a market but we were able to park in a layby.
From Peronne we moved on to the Thiepval memorial. This is a huge structure ( again by Lutyens) with more than 72,000 names of British and Commonwealth dead who have no grave. From here you can also see another three or four war cemeteries within a few miles - Thiepval was fought over throughout the first world war. There is an excellent interpretation centre with a little cinema, which focuses on the Battle of the Somme. The car park is large enough for motorhomes, possibly even an informal overnighter, but we did not try as we were in a regular campsite at Authuile which was within walking distance.
After Thiepval we made the short trip to Vimy to the Canadian war memorial. We were able to walk around the trenches with their surrounding cratered landscape and take a conducted tour of the underground tunnels that provided shelter, storage and HQ. Canadian students who have opted to spend a semester in France act as very knowledgeable guides.
There is a large car park near the memorial and we overnighted here despite the signs to the contrary - we were not moved on but it was early in the season.
This monument had suffered over the years, the white stone had turned black, no doubt from air pollution and there were structural problems where the concrete base met the stone. So a complete makeover took place with fresh stone coming from the original quarry in Croatia.
The trenches at Vimy Ridge - the sandbags are now concrete.
Ypres was completely flattened during WW1 and was lovingly rebuilt later. There is a splendid museum in Ypres in the Cloth Hall with clips of newsreel, music & various artifacts. When you go in (8 euro entrance fee) you are given an ID card with the identity of a real person from Ypres during the war and at various interval during your visit you can enter your card into a machine and check what happened to you during or after the war.
A great place for a school trip but interesting for students of any age.
then we time travelled to WW2...
We moved on 20+ years when we went to La Coupole which is a huge concrete dome where the Germans intended to manufacture and launch V2 rockets. No rockets were ever launched due to allied bombing but the dome was never breached and is now a large and informative museum which describes the development of the V2 which is the ancestor of the moon launching many years later - the Americans and the Russians particularly clever at pinching German scientists after the war.
There is also a rather harrowing display in relation to concentration camps and the general brutalities of war.
As usual in all these places, there was a school party and in this case they were English - the teacher looked about 15.
Our second WW2 site was the blockhaus at Eperleques which is a stunningly massive concrete cube designed to fuel and launch V2 missiles. Nothing was ever launched due to American bombing and it was abandoned after a Tallboy "earthquake" bomb went off close by (creating a massive crater which you can still see). The weather was particularly grey and misty making our visit a bit creepy and very atmospheric especially as we were the only people there. The obligatory school party arrived as we were leaving.
There is a good and large carpark but a narrow road leading to this place.