Amiens, October 29, 63km

written by bryan on November 5th, 2006 @ 10:37 AM

Today’s pictures on flickr

Bethany forgot one of the more interesting things we ran aross yesterday, our funniest translation error yet. At supper, I ordered a “lawyer salad”. According to the menu, it had lettuce, tomato, onions and lawyer on it. The french menu had lawyer on it, too, but most people would read avocat as avacado rather than lawyer!

This morning we looked around Arras and then headed to the train station, just as our train was leaving. Doh! Even more frustrating was that we had a schedule for that train that Bethany had picked up in Lille, but hadn’t checked it. I didn’t realize that the schedule worked for Arras too, but Bethany knew better!

We could have hung out in Arras for 3 hours to wait for the next train, but instead we decided to biycle to the next stop. If we could get there in less than 4 hours, we’d beat the train. Didn’t really matter; Amiens was the end of the line for that train anyways.

If we actually knew what we were doing, 60km in 4 hours would be very possible, even loaded down as we are. But of course, we had no clue what we were doing.

I think it took us close to an hour just to get started. We had to decide whether we actually wanted to go or not, change into our cycling clothes, track down some water (quite a challenge on Sunday when everything is closed), and figure out how to get out of the city and to Amiens. Once out of the city, the route was very simple, so we ventured off without a map.

And I’m really glad we decided to cycle. Yesterday we got to see Vimy Ridge in the twilight, but I did feel a little bit cheated that I didn’t get the full experience because the monument is being reconstructed and the cemetary and tunnels were closed for the evening. However, just south of Arras we ran across a Commenwealth grave. In it, there were about 1500 British soldiers, about 500 Canadians, and a handful of others from other Commonwealth nations. About 150 of these were from the second world war, the remainder were from the first.

How does one describe the feeling one gets as one walks randomly through the rows and rows of white gravestones, all the same shape, standing in military precision. Reading a name and regiment randomly. Wondering at the numbers of men who weren’t 18, but were 45 yet only a private. Noticing the odd Jewish star engraved on a tomb rather than a cross. Noticing that many of the dates match. Wondering at who was left behind, what could have been accomplished. Wondering if this sort of event is really behind us?

In Northern France and Belgium there are hundreds of World War I cemetaries, and many of these are south of Arras, in the area that we were cycling through. There were over two thousand graves at the first site we passed by. Others seemed slightly smaller, others were larger. Another we went through, the “Serre Road Cemetery II” had almost ten thousand soldiers, a varied mix of commonwealth soldiers, and 13 German ones. The German soldiers had tombstones that were very similar to the commonwealth tombstones, except the top was pointed rather than arched, and the stone was more grey than off-white. The tombstones were randomly arranged, without precedence to nationality, rank, age, race or religion.

Very well kept by the Commonwealth Graves Commission, these cemetaries do have to be visited.

There were nine Commonwealth and two French military cemetaries just along the road that we cycled down today. Uncountable others were pointed to by signs along the side of the road. There was one just for soldiers from Newfoundland. There was one for Indian and Chinese soldiers, which we wondered at.

Most of these cemetaries contained thousands of soldiers. Hundreds of cemetaries, thousands of soldiers. It’s mind-numbing.

One of the other things Bethany and I noted is that the French like hunting as a Sunday past-time. We saw countless number of men walking the fields with rifles across their shoulders and heard the pop, pop, pop of the guns going off even when we didn’t see them. I’m not sure what they were hunting as there didn’t seem to be many birds around.

We got in to Amiens as the light was starting to fade. It was 5PM. We went off of savings time last night and sunset is now at 5:30PM with sunrise at 7:30. We stopped in to see the Cathedral, which is large and Gothic. It’s awe inspiring in it’s own way, but I’m just not into churches much, so…

We were hungry and tired, so decided to stay in Amiens tonight. Good call, I don’t think you’re going to find a nice hotel in Paris for 47 Euros!

We’ll see how sick I get in Paris. Steak Tartare was on the menu, so I had to order it. Very tasty, but the combination of raw minced beef and raw egg certainly leaves vulnerable to mistakes along the food chain!

Tomorrow Paris!

Comments

  • Wayne on 05 Nov 18:18

    Fitting commentary considering Remembrance day is this Saturday. Thanks for sharing.
  • Frances on 05 Nov 22:51

    If there is one blog entry that is must reading for your followers this is it. It was very moving for me; I can only guess the impact it makes in real life. A question, where were the German soldiers buried? Were they transported back to Germany?. And why the few German graves you did find?
  • Bethany on 06 Nov 12:28

    I can't claim to know many details about the German graves but I do know that some are buried on French soil but in very understated and not celebrated cemetaries. During my previous visit to Vimy Ridge I was fortunate to be given a ride back to the larger town Arras by the Canadians working as tour guides at Vimy. I remember passing this very this cementary full of black crosses (dark grey to black) and being told it was one of the German graveyards from WWI. I think it was 40,000 buried there with some in mass graves. It would have been nice if we had also visited a German cemetary. In the pictures, I have put a picture of the one known German buried in the Serre Road II. It was not common but not unknown for a fez Germans to be buried in the Commonwealth Graves Commission sites. The War memorials are very moving and I think Bryan portrayed this well.
  • Claudia on 06 Nov 13:02

    on a lighter note, that translation error is absolutely hilarious! Not much to say about the cemeteries (that hasn't been said before) other than my heart grieves for so many lost lifes... and dreams! and for what? nothing. Useless wars.

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