Lest we forget – My visit to Vimy Ridge and how it brought me closer to history and home.

I guess technically I was geographically closer to home than I am here in Belgium. I’m not sure why I didn’t get my act together and post this sooner (story of my life), but it seems fitting that I post it today. I didn’t plan it like this I just thought since I hadn’t posted it already that it would be a good day to do it. Please forgive in advance any glaring historical errors. I will gladly correct any that are pointed out to me. So here we go…

Tuesday, October 18, 2011:

I remember Lucie and I had to drop Sylvain off that morning. We stopped at the bakery first  – I wanted to take Lucie before she left and then we also had a snack for on the road – and after dropping him off realized I didn’t have the address and the monument wasn’t listed as such on my GPS. So we went back home and I turned on my computer before thinking it might just be faster checking on my iPod. It was. It was difficult to find because the address does have a number, only the postal code. I eventually just selected a road near the town (Canadian Way) and hoped for the best. My ‘final destination’ was a little before we actually entered the 107-hectare site that was France’s gift to Canada, but we ended up finding it no problem. It was a little frustrating that there’s no actual website, but we managed. I was a little worried for time because Google Maps said it would take around 3 hours to get there. In reality it only took 2. So even though we left half an hour later than planned, we still got there before we thought we would.

The drive wasn’t bad. It rained a little off and on and was pretty cloudy the entire time. I think Vimy is only about 30-45 minutes from the France/Belgium border. Under an hour anyway. When we actually entered the site it was really neat. It’s been reforested to prevent erosion and in among all the trees is the bumpy terrain from artillery. It felt like we were in a large park. The roads inside are still main roads that connect the surrounding towns, but it didn’t feel that way to me. And then we saw all the danger/warning signs and the Government of Canada signs and we started to get excited. For me it was a little like a homecoming. It’s been a while and I’m missing my homeland. Being surrounded by familiar symbols and flag made me feel all giddy despite the sombre mood of the day and the history of the place. The memorial is actually the Vimy Ridge National Historic Site of Canada and is one of only 2 Canadian national historic sites outside of Canada.

I'm not sure if this was made from above or below... Either way it's huge!

As we walked up to the Welcome Centre we noticed there was a large school group and we got a little nervous. We didn’t really want to be in a tour with them. Small tour groups are always better if you can manage it. Fortunately they have separate public tours. We arrived just before noon, but the next available tour was at two so we chatted a bit with the girl who was stuck working by herself while the rest were on their lunch break and took a look around inside at the information, and pictures and things. We were curious about how you could get a job working there. I guess you have to be a current student who plans on going back to school after your term in France. You also have to be bilingual. All the guides are Canadian which made it really neat because we were able to talk about home with them.

We also watched a video of the restoration which took place from 2005-2007. Unfortunately for us that group of students came back in from finishing their tour and were really noisy. A bunch were sitting ‘watching’ and I was happy that I could read a bit of French (the subtitles) because until they left we couldn’t hear a thing. After that we went to visit the Canadian cemeteries. First was the Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery which contains the graves of 111 soldiers. The Canadian Cemetery No. 2 holds only 693 Canadians, but over 2000 British and other soldiers. We signed the registry books that were in each, reading where our fellow Canadians were all coming from and when. Of course it’s not just Canadians who come, but there were a lot who signed the register. In the 2nd cemetery there are many, many graves with the nationality of the soldier, but no name, just ‘Known unto God’. On some they don’t even know what country. I find that to be one of the saddest things of all. For the families to not know. I guess they would have an idea of where a soldier had died because they would have known where he was fighting, but to want to come and visit the grave, but not know which one…I can’t imagine.

Row after row of simple headstones mark the country in which many laid down their lives fighting an enemy who would have preferred to be their friend.

By the time we walked back to the Centre we had just enough time to eat out lunches and for me to take more pictures before meeting up for our tour. I think there were about 8 of us – all Canadians actually – most from Ontario, but a couple from Saskatchewan. Lucie and I were the youngest one’s there by far. This time of year it’s mostly British and French school groups. It’s busier in the summer. The monument itself is actually accessible 24/7, it’s just the Welcome Centre that isn’t.

After 50 years of being our own country we were finally recognized as such. Unfortunate that this recognition cost so much.

Canada officially became the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. It wasn’t until 50 years later – April 1917 – that we were finally being recognized globally as a separate entity from the British. Up until Vimy Ridge Canadian victories were celebrated as British conquests. We had managed a feat that neither the British nor the French had been able to accomplish. Of course, this was just one battle. It just happened to be an important area. Up until this battle very few people actually knew any battle plans. The general Private was kept in the dark. They just marched and fired when they were told to. This makes sense in case of capture. Vimy was different. It was so crucial for the plan to work exactly as laid out that everyone knew what was supposed to happen. Soldiers studied maps of the area, aerial photos, plans. They practised for months in between digging the tunnels that would bring them close to the enemy. So close in fact that they had to be careful because the German’s would be able to hear digging and conversation from their own tunnels.

The attack happened on April 9th. They had considerable firepower but only showed about half of it on March 20. On April 2 they started bombing in earnest. Thus began what the German’s called ‘the week of suffering’. After the targets were destroyed, the bombardment was slowed down before the actual attack. If I remember correctly what normally happened after an artillery strike was an immediate charge. I guess by slowing this down, they were able to confuse the enemy. This was the first time all 4 Canadian division were fighting together. They had to advance 700 meters over a 7km front to reach German trenches. Hill 145 was the main goal and is where the monument now sits. It was captured on April 10th. By April 12th the entire ridge had been taken. One tactic that was used was the ‘creeping barrage’. This is where the artillery would strike and behind them would come the soldiers. After the first set they would bomb again and then more soldiers. Things had to be timed down to the second or your own men would get hit from shells falling in front of or behind them. And when the artillery is coming from 10km away….timing was everything. I believe they didn’t start bombing the German’s right away, they started a littler further back thus enabling the men on foot to remain hidden and have that element of surprise. I can’t remember exactly how long it was, but before the attack the men who were to rush out of the tunnels first had to first wait inside them. They had to stand, as silent as possible, with their 30kg packs and rations for 12 hours. For some reason they had to wait for longer, maybe twice as long before they actually attacked. How they managed it I have no idea.

One tactic employed was digging smaller side tunnels deeper and closer to the enemy tunnels/trenches. They would then place explosives at the end which when detonated would create huge craters. Then as the smoke was clearing they would charge the enemy. It didn’t always work very well because the enemy knew that after that happened they would be under attack. And all they had to do during an artillery strike was stay hunkered down in their fortified tunnels and wait it out, no lives lost. This is why it was so important to confuse them when it came to artillery.

The upgraded version of one of the tunnels.

On the tour we were asked what we thought they used down there to see. They actually used electricity. You don’t want to have open flames in a tunnel for a number of reasons. They turned off the main lights and said that the emergency lights they have now would have been very similar to the lighting in  1917 – basically non-existent. Then again, stay down there long enough and your eyes will adjust. The entrances/exists were very basic, just muddy openings and slopes. The soldiers packs weighed 30kg (60+ lbs) and they had to run out and up these slopes without falling and do it relatively quickly. I couldn’t do that without a pack let alone with one that heavy on my back.

Also preserved are a length of both Canadian and German trenches. This part I really do forget, but it was an anniversary or something and there were a bunch of veterans there and they filled sand bags with cement to create realistic looking and long-lasting trench walls. The effect is really cool. For those of you who don’t know the trenches were never straight, they were always curvy. This was important because if artillery blasted in a trench the shrapnel would go further and kill so many more men if the trench was one long straight line. Also if the enemy managed to breach a trench they would just have to walk along and fire and no one could hide. The curved, zigzagging shape allows for some protection from both those things. It’s amazing to see how close the trenches of the two sides were in some places. I’m no good with distances, but I would say a few hundred feet or so. Not far at all. You had to be super careful when you were on the lookout.

This is the German trench. That big cement slab covers an entrance to their tunnels.

That cement ladder looking thing on the ground is meant to be a more sturdy replica of the wooden duckboards that were used during the war. And now enough with the iffy history lesson. On to the actual monument.

That's me on the steps. Seriously. It's me.

We were fortunate enough that the sun came out for a little while. I was so glad that I had Lucie with me. It was great for the both of us because it meant we were able to get pictures of us that we wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise. I’m glad I didn’t go alone. There is a paved lane that goes tight around the monument, but also wider around and it seems like the people who live near by just use it for walks and such.

This is what the pathway originally looked like. I'm not sure why they changed it during the restoration.

It’s hard to describe what I was feeling at being there. This is a place that I’d grown up hearing about in history classes. A place that we were told we should really try to see someday. In grade 12 I read the book The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart. At one point one of her characters (a women) comes to the monument as it’s being built. It took 11 years to build and was inaugurated in 1936. The woman knows how to carve stone, but isn’t one of the carvers (I’m pretty sure she disguises herself as a man). She ends up getting close to one of the men who carves the names and he lets her help him carve the name of her fist lover who died somewhere in France. It was the closes look I had at the memorial until now. It’s such an important moment in our nation’s history and it was a little overwhelming to realize I actually made it. It was one of those places that I always said ‘well, if I ever get to Europe I would really like to go’, but never actually thought I would get the opportunity. That I did it on my own (no parents) is also something.

"This sorrowing figure of a women represents Canada - a young nation mourning her dead."

By the time we actually got up there and were taking it all in it was just the two of us. There were others that came before we left, but for the most part we were able to look and take pictures is peace. Makes me really glad I didn’t go this summer. On the inside of one of the walls this is carved: “The Canadian Corps on 9th April 1917 with four divisions in line on a front of four miles attacked and captured this ridge.” I feel like this is something that all Canadians can take pride in and at the same time I feel guilty. I can’t take any personal pride in it obviously. I don’t even personally know anyone who fought in any war let alone at Vimy. This monument stands as a sign of change in our history. With this battle the Canadians earned respect as well as a combined pride in our country both on the front and at home. It brought them together. For me, I feel like everybody loves ‘Canadians’, everybody knows we’re so polite and nice – this stands as a reminder that we’re not simple-minded doormats that you can walk all over just because we say sorry all the time. We may be a country that prefers to keep peace, but we have the strength and character to do what is needed when called upon. Some of that might be my reaction to an episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother’, the one where Barney finds out he’s 1/4 Canadian. Heck, I don’t even get some of the Canadian references Robin makes and usually I’m pretty easy-going about Canadian stereotypes. I usually find them really funny. I think that episode took it too far. For me at this time anyway. I love my country and I want everyone else to – is that too unrealistic? Oh probably. Not everybody will love everything.

As we were preparing to leave this group from France started talking to me. I managed to have an entire conversation with complete strangers. And I translated for Lucie as well. It allowed me to see how far I’ve come in regards to French, but also how far I still have to go. It was a little difficult at times because they were talking fast and I didn’t catch everything. Maybe I convinced them that I knew more than I actually do, I don’t know. But it was a neat experience.

Once back in the car we went to Arras which was about 15-20 minutes away. Lucie was taking the train from there to Paris. We got there earlier than expected and she wanted to try to take the earlier train if possible. Again I played translator. Arras is small enough that it’s not a guarantee people will speak a little English. After saying goodbye and watching her get on the train I stopped somewhere for supper and headed back to the monument. I wanted to see it at night with the lights. There was a couple of people leaving just as I got there and again, I was the only one there. Between taking pictures and just reflecting I was there for about another hour. I felt so fortunate to be able to be there, taking my time, and enjoying the silence around me. I tried – and failed – to imagine what they went through, both sides. At one point I was almost moved to tears thinking that as lovely as this monument is how unnecessary it all was. All that death and destruction. War may be a part of history, present, and future, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I have a strange fascination with the two World Wars. I have an interest in history that isn’t as intense as some people, but the interest is there. Maybe part of my desire to visit war memorials is because I miss home and some of the memorials are a way to connect with home if only in name. Sometimes when I think of being on the ridge I don’t believe it was real. I feel that maybe if there would have been a whole lot of people there (or at least a few others) that it would have seemed like I was actually there at the real monument. As it was it kind of felt like a dream. Especially when I went back that evening. I have this strong desire to go back. I think it’s more the lure of the Welcome Centre and my fellow Canucks than the monument itself. But with it comes this little bit of fear that my car will break down again even though I’m always going to be so careful when it comes to putting in gas.

Well, we all know my camera isn't the greatest, but here's my only shot of the full front of the monument.

 

Full album here.

                                                                                                                      

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My France Fuel Fiasco

*Most adorable moment alert at the end! Skip ahead if you want.*

I decided I wanted to give the car update before Vimy and Bruges because after yesterday’s post some of you might be curious. The dash shows 6 little bars when there’s a full tank. I had 5 showing when we left for France Tuesday morning. By the time I was ready to leave the Memorial Tuesday night, I had 2 left. I thought of waiting till I was back in Belgium to get more, but when I have anything less than half a tank I get nervous. I’m like that in Canada too. I never know what to do if something goes wrong so I do my best to ensure something doesn’t go wrong.

What started out as a didn’t-quite-go-as-planned-but-we-still-made-good-time day turned into an amazing experience (more on that another day). This wonderful day turned into a nightmare as it was coming to an end. The fault is all mine and as such I sometimes felt like I didn’t have a right to be so emotional. But there you have it – that’s just the way I am. Looking back – as with most things – it wasn’t as nightmarish as I felt it to be, it just topped my list of things I never wanted to be stuck doing. Let me go through this chronologically…

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 – 8pm: It had been fully dark for a little while now and I was enjoying my time at the monument with it’s ‘dramatic’ lighting. All by myself. There was literally no one there. Well, I guess there were some people walking the path that widely circles the monument, but I couldn’t see them, it was too dark out there. I did sort of see movement of people as I was getting into my car.

I looked to see how much gas I had, remembering that I needed to get more. So I planned my GPS route with a stop for gas. This is where things started to go south. I stopped at the station, but didn’t see the normal gas I usually put in the car. I knew I didn’t want diesel, so I took the other option. I paid and started driving. I managed to get on the highway again when I noticed things weren’t working right. I wasn’t able to accelerate past 90km/h. Then it got worse. I knew I needed to get off the highway if possible. I managed that, but had to come to a stop before continuing. That was tricky, I almost didn’t get going again and the last thing I wanted was to be stranded blocking traffic in a country I’m not familiar with whose language isn’t first nature to me – all this and no cell phone. By some miracle that I know was only by the grace of God I managed to get to a somewhat populated area and into a hotel parking lot before the car stalled on me. I wasn’t in a parking space – the parking circled the building, and I was just inside the gate – but thankfully over the course of that night and the next day I didn’t get a ticket or anything.

I went to the front desk. I think the guy who was manning it was also tending the bar – there was a restaurant that was attached to the hotel – and so I ‘rang’ for him and waited. He didn’t really speak any English so I was forced to explain my predicament in the best French I could – which wasn’t great, but it worked. I was trying to do this and not completely break down. As it was I was crying and that made it even more difficult to explain. He let me use the phone and I called the house. I happened to have a notebook with me that had 3 phone #s in it: Jean-Go’s, Valerie’s, and the house. I know, it was extremely irresponsible for me to forget my cell phone. I should also have had a bunch of #s written down and left in the car. Because of course, I don’t have the #s memorized because they are in my cell. And the #s are grouped differently here so it makes in confusing to try to remember them. There I go with the excuses. On with the story!

I managed to talk to Greg and he asked where I was and things like that. I didn’t even know what town I was in. The man at the desk didn’t have time to talk to Greg (he seemed to be doing a million things at once), but he handed me a business card for the hotel. That was actually really good because I needed that info the next day while taking with the insurance company. So Greg said he would call me back in a few minutes. When he did call me back we decided that because it was late there wasn’t really much I could do and I should just stay the night and deal with it in the morning. So I asked if I could book a room. Unfortunately this hotel was all full up. This immediate area happened to be sort of a hotel park of sorts, with at least 6 or 7 right there. It was explained to me that this one, and the next few were all booked up. You can imagine my reaction. I was ready to sleep in the car – I didn’t really care, I just didn’t want to get in trouble (I have no idea how those things work over here). So I started walking. I walked to the next hotel over just to test my luck. It was locked, but I happened to run into someone who must have worked there because they told me it was full, but to try Quick Palace which was just a few hotels over. I arrive at Quick Palace and it is locked as well, but again, someone who worked there was outside, let me in, and I booked a room. With breakfast it was 40 Euros. It took me a bit of effort to open the door. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be like that or if it was just me.

The first thing I noticed was that there was no phone. And the shower didn’t have a curtain or anything, it was cylindrical in shape with just an opening to get in and out (and for water to spray out if you’re not careful). I managed to calm down enough to get to sleep, but I woke up 3 or 4 times over the course of the night. The next morning I get up, get dressed, and go out for breakfast. I notice there is a payphone, but I can’t even use it. Apparently in Europe they don’t believe in using change in payphones. You have to have a phone card, or a credit card (or some other card). I don’t have a credit card here and I couldn’t use my debit. Of course this brings on a fresh bought of tears. I again manage to form some semblance of conversation with the woman working the desk (there were a couple of others there as well) and they tell me I have to go to Auchon to buy the card. It’s only a 10 min. walk, not that far. Okay, that’s doable. So I start walking. Thankfully there are a lot of signs pointing me in the right direction (in case I forgot the directions the women gave me) and after stopping at the car to make sure I had a few things I was on my way. Eventually I saw another sign telling me the entrance to Auchon was only 200m away. Now, I’m not good with distances so I didn’t know how to judge that. Also, I didn’t actually know what Auchon was – a grocery store, a gas station? I didn’t know. I ended up walking past where I had to turn to get there without even knowing it. Eventually I thought that maybe I had gone too far because I wasn’t seeing anything and I was pretty sure I had walked further than 200m. I must have looked lost and miserable (I was crying on and off the entire time) because this woman pulled on the side road near me (I was standing on a corner), got out of her car, and asked what I was looking for. And kindly pointed me in the right direction.

I should mention at this point that everyone I encountered was super nice and (for the most part) helpful. The night clerk/reception desk guy was the only one who wasn’t so patient, but I can excuse that because he was the only one there and had a job to do which didn’t include catering to the unfortunate happenings of a young women crying her eyes out in his hotel. Eventually I saw a sign for Auchon – a gas station. I walked over there before I realized that what I was looking for was actually a grocery store, Auchon the grocery store. I saw it across the road from Auchon the gas station. What I didn’t realize at first was that it was part of a mall and I had to go in one of the mall entrances to get to the store. I figured this out after walking most of the length of the mall. Again, I wasn’t really in a good state of mind at this point. And it gets worse. So I go in. I sort of stand there not really knowing where to look when I decide to get in line at a check out because usually they have things like card at the check out. When I finally talked to someone she told me that ‘no, they don’t have them you need to go to a phone store’. I was pretty sure I said it wasn’t a cell phone thing I was looking for and I’m also pretty sure that she said the word for payphone, but I felt like we got our wires crossed somewhere. So I locate this phone store. Well, what do you know? The girl working there tells me they don’t have what I’m looking for, that I can get those at Auchon. I was so distraught. I went back into the grocery store and went looking for an employee that wasn’t busy. I walked up to these two women who were handing out free chocolate and I couldn’t hold back anymore – I started bawling. I was crying so hard I couldn’t even talk. I kept trying to say sorry because I hadn’t even been able to explain what my problem was before I broke down. The one offered me chocolate, but I couldn’t eat. I could barely eat anything for breakfast, I only did because I had paid for it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so stressed that I couldn’t eat before – maybe on the day of my Laurier audition – but I don’t know. I just kept saying ‘sorry’ and ‘I just need to cry for a bit’. Eventually I calmed down enough to explain a few things. I’m Canadian. I’m living in Belgium right now. I put the wrong gas in my car and it broke down. I don’t have a cell phone. I need to find a phone card, but I keep getting told different things. I felt like I was walking in circles and was getting very discouraged. The one women took me with her to ask someone else, who in turn went to ask another person. The first women even offered to let me use her cell phone! I declined because I had to make a call to the insurance company and I didn’t know how long it would take so I needed to get a card.

Finally we found out that I had to go to ‘La (le?) Presse’, a place that sells magazines, lotto tickets, things like that. And there I was fortunate enough to find what I was looking for. This calmed me down a little. Then came the next part; trying to make an insurance call in a foreign language. The first man I talked to, thankfully, spoke English – actually, they all did. I think with yesterday and today I talked to 4 representatives. It turns out I forgot a crucial piece of paper in the car and I needed it or they couldn’t help me. So I told him that I would have to go get it and call back. The walk back took me longer because I was so tired – physically and emotionally. I wasn’t even wearing my running shoes so my feet hurt. Not too bad, but enough that I just didn’t want to walk anymore. After grabbing the required papers I thought I would walk back to the Quick Palace instead of all the way back to the mall. Mistake. The doors were locked. From 11am-5pm the front desk is closed. You can only get in if you have a room key with the code on it. Since I only stayed the one night I no longer had my room key. So I waked back to the mall. I feel like I didn’t this more than twice, but that might just be my mind playing tricks on me. Before walking back to the car I had actually called Adeline just to say that I was still alive, ha ha.

So I make it to the mall again and contact the insurance. We get everything figured out and it was decided that a tow truck will pick me up and take me to the nearest Toyota dealer/garage. She wanted a number she could reach me at, but I didn’t have one so I told her I could wait near the pay phone. She said that it would most likely be an hour for the truck, but to wait by the phone for 5 minutes; she would call back if it was going to take longer. I waited 10, no call. So I left. At this point it’s after lunch. I had walked around in a daze for a little over 3 hours trying to get this sorted out. I finally got back to the car. The truck arrived at about 1:45. I again explained my situation, but most of the drive was in silence – at least from me. He made a few phone calls, I think something wasn’t going right, but I’m not sure. I wasn’t really paying attention, I was just trying not to cry/fall asleep. Once at the garage things started sort of falling into place. The woman working there called Eurocare (the insurance company I had been in contact with) because my French wasn’t quite up to snuff with the vocabulary I needed to use. Bottom line; the car wouldn’t be ready that day. I had a choice – stay in a hotel (I would be reimbursed for up to 4 nights) or take the train home and then back to pick up the car (I would also be reimbursed for this). Since I didn’t have any other clothes with me or anything (thankfully I had decided to bring my glasses along for the drive home!) I just really wanted to get ‘home’. I wanted to be back in Belgium, on ‘familiar’ territory. It wasn’t all that different in this part of France, it was just that I was in another country. I had been stranded in France. Oh boy. They gave me a ride to the train station even though it wasn’t that far from the garage – only a 6 minute walk. I happened to get there in decent time to catch a train to Namur. I was in Douai by the way. I asked if there was a payphone near by because I wanted to give Adeline an update. It didn’t work. Okay. So I took a train from Douai to Lille, which is quite close to the Belgian border (it’s actually wear Adeline bought her wedding dress), that was about 20 minutes. I had all of 5 minutes to catch my connecting train from Lille to Namur. We were a little late and I missed it. I was also looking for Namur on the screens that tell you which platform you need to go to, but what I needed to look for was Tournai, but I didn’t know that. I went to information and they said I could just take the next train in an hour. So instead of arriving in Namur at 5:30, I would get there at 6:30. I looked at this as a little blessing because I was able to give Adeline a heads up as to when I would be arriving in Namur. I got her answering machine and said I would try to call back again before I got on the train. I didn’t call back.

I was just sort of wandering around. I stepped outside a couple of times (from two different entrances) to see a bit of Lille, but I didn’t want to stray too far. I ended up meeting this guy. Kid. He was 19. His name was François-Rémy. He was actually from the centre of France (I can’t remember and didn’t know how to spell his town’s name) and I missed why he said he was in Lille. He was excited because he could practice his English. He hadn’t had a chance for a while. We both lamented on the education systems in our respective countries on how we take French (or English) for so many years (mandatory 9 for me), but it doesn’t actually prepare us to make conversation. We also talked about some of the differences between Québec (Canadian French), France, and Belgium French. And how in Belgium a cell phone is called a GSM and in France it’s a portable. In England it’s a mobile, and in North American it’s a cell phone. He was pretty cool. He was surprised when he found out my age. I had explained how Jean-Go came to live with my family 15 years ago, when I was 10. He said ‘you’re 25?!’. I have no idea how old he thought I was…I didn’t have any make-up on and I can only imagine how I looked after crying all day. The end of the hour was fast approaching. I really didn’t want to miss another train so I didn’t have a chance to call back Adeline. F-R and I said our goodbyes and nice to meet you’s and I hopped on the train. For the next two hours I just sat listening to an audio book. I was going to sleep, but I couldn’t really. When I got to Namur I searched out the exit and another pay phone. Thankfully I was able to use my debit card with this one. I called Adeline and she said that Greg was on his way and told me where to meet him. I went outside and a minute or two later Greg pulled up. I explained more fully what had happened and my day so far. I was then silent for most the rest of the trip – zombie like.  We arrived home and I was so relieved. We had supper and I went to take a shower because some guys were supposed to come and fix the furnace today and tomorrow and would be cutting off the heat – so no heat or hot water. Then I went to bed.

The guys didn’t come today. I don’t know what’s happening now in that regard. I spent most of the day just chilling, glad to be home, in my room. I picked up Bastien from school and was relieved to be doing something normal. The car was actually ready this afternoon, but I wouldn’t have been able to make it to the train station, catch a train, and be there before they closed today so I’m going tomorrow. I have plans to catch the 9:30 train. If all goes well I should be back in time to pick up Sylvain!

There is one really, really adorable thing I need to mention that happened this morning. Sylvain still isn’t walking on his own, but he’s getting pretty good at walking while just holding one hand. So he was walking with me and I passed him on to Adeline. Then she passed him on to Bastien who wanted to walk with his brother. They actually walked quite a ways, hand in hand. It was seriously the cutest thing I think I’ve seen the entire time I’ve been here. The height difference and everything, and just the fact that they’re two brothers. A lot of the times when Bastien tries to interact or play with Sylvain he has to stop because he’s being too rough. Or he’ll be ‘reading’ and Sylvain will try to take the book from him. I think all of us were a little misty eyed at the scene played out before us this morning. It was definitely something we wish we could have on camera. Also, they’ve decided that we need to start breaking it gently to Bastien that I’m going to be leaving and not coming back (at least not to live). It’s a rough age to have another person come live with you and help take care of you. He thinks he has 3 parents: Maman, Papa, and Holly. I guess Tuesday night he was asking where Greg and I were. Adeline explained Papa is coming home late, but Holly isn’t tonight. It’s definitely important to prepare him, instead of me just suddenly disappearing. He doesn’t quite understand that I have to go home. I’m sure if we start now he’ll be fine. Maybe not at first, but ultimately, he’ll be fine. And we’ll have Skype, so it’s not like he can never see me again.

I think this actually has to be the longest post I’ve written. About 3750 words. Woah man. Maybe it would have been good as two. Oh well. Now you know. Good learning experience? I guess it depends. I was forced to do things on my own that I’ve ever had to do before and in a foreign country no less, so I guess I’ve grown a bit as a person. I just would have preferred personal growth to not come at the expense of someone else’s property. 😦

 

                                                                                                                      

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How’s your day been?

It’s oddly fitting that today’s Dictionary.com ‘Word of the Day’ is ‘harrowing’. Because the last 24 hours have been just that – at least the distressing part of the definition. I’m way too exhausted to try to explain with any kind of coherency what happened. Just know this; it had to do with the car, I got stuck in France over night, I forgot my cell phone in Belgium, and I’ll have to go back either tomorrow or Friday to retrieve the car. I know I said in a recent post that the drive to the Monument in Vimy was going to take 3 hours (according to Google Maps). It was actually just over 2, so that was good. We were late leaving and still got there before our projected time.

This is another one of those ‘how could I be so stupid, this is all my fault’ moments. Although this time I’m not laughing and don’t think I’ll ever laugh. I’ll look back on this “adventure” as a period of growth – I just wish it didn’t involve other people’s property. I’m getting pretty good at taking the train though.

So this – my 300th post – is not very exciting despite the “exciting” events which have recently transpired. Obviously since I’m here writing this I’m fine – physically. Emotionally, well, it’s been a stressful 24 hours.

                                                                                                                      

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The dates are set…

A few weeks ago I mentioned some exciting things in the works. Some of you didn’t like being left in suspense. Sorry I’ve waited so long, but I wanted to make sure everything was actually in motion and a go before I talked about it. A friend of mine from university has now left Canada (a few days ago I think) and has come over to do a Euro-tour. I believe she is flying into London, then on to the Netherlands, before making her way to Belgium. She has some family that is only about 45 minutes away from me, near Liège. In just 9 more sleeps she’ll be here! This actually started a couple of months ago, this idea. I think it was a Facebook status about visiting Europe and I (seriously, yet in a jocular manner) said if she was coming to Belgium she should drop me a line. Then I got a FB message from her and we set our plan in motion.

So far our plan looks like this: Saturday, October 15 she will either get a ride to Wasseiges or I will pick her up. One city I haven’t been to yet that I really want to visit is Brugge. So Sunday the 16 we are going to pack a lunch and head out early to take our time touring the city. I think we’re going to check out the chocolate museum, but other than that we don’t have set plans. If it works we might try to check out the In Flanders Fields Museum, but we don’t want to be rushed in Brugge and that would be on our way home. We might still swing by there (Ypres) on our way home because every night at 8 they play the last post and I’d like to hear it there some time. Monday will be more relaxed; we can’t stray too far as I have to be back by 3:30 to pick up Bastien. I want to take her to Waterloo 1) so we can get those coveted pictures with the town signs that I want and still haven’t been back to get and 2) because we both went to university in Waterloo, Canada and I just think it would be neat. I don’t know if we’ll ‘do’ anything or not yet. Also, I’ll have my French class so maybe she’ll want to come with me to check it out! Then again, maybe not :P.

Tuesday, October, 19 is when it gets a little more, hmm, big… We will have another early start with picnic lunches. And by early I mean around 8/8:30 after I take care of my morning duties. That will be followed by a 3 hour drive…to France! As some of you know I really want to see the Vimy Ridge Canadian Memorial before I go home. And when Lucie said she was going to try to visit I jumped at the chance of going with someone. This works out really well because France is on her tour list. And F.Y.I. – the Memorial and the tours are all free. The Memorial is accessible 24/7. So other than gas and a ‘treat’ if we decide to get one, it’s going to be an inexpensive day. And a memorable one. Every time I go somewhere it’s memorable, I’m so very fortunate. I had thought of going during Remembrance Week when there would be special goings on at the Memorial, but I’ve come to enjoy the crowd-less museums and decided that going on a big day/time like that (especially alone) would not be very enjoyable for me.  Only 9 more sleeps till Lucie’s visit!

But wait, there’s more! Oh yes, there’s more. I’m going to London! Well, I haven’t got my train ticket yet. I’m having issues paying for them. On the Eurostar website it says you can make payments online with debit or credit. But when I went to pay it only gave credit options. I emailed customer service and the response was choose credit card and fill in your debit card info and it should work. Hmm, yes, well, my debit card doesn’t have a security code like on credit cards so how does that work? I responded with this (after trying multiple times) even though I was given a number to call if it doesn’t work. This is just not going my way. It will work out, in the end, I just wanted to get it booked and done with so I could relax. Until I actually go. Going to London is…almost as involved as it’s going to be going back home. First Adeline will drive me to Namur. Then I’ll take a train from Namur to Brussels. When I check in I’m going to be given a Landing Card to fill out. On this I have to put the exact address of where I’m staying along with how I’m getting there. And other things I’m sure. Then there is a 2 hour train ride, some of it under water, which I haven’t really thought about although I know that thought freaks at least one of my friends out. I should arrive just after 5pm in London on Friday, November 18. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do while there, but I’ll have to pack it in. I then leave just after 4pm on Sunday, November 20. I probably could choose to stay a little longer and come home later, but I’ll still have to take a train to Namur and get picked up and I don’t want to be too late. I am just a little nervous about all of that. Train switching and the like. At least I’ve been in the Brussels-Midi station before (when we went to Paris), and I was the one who found where we needed to go, so I think I’ll be ok.

Well, at least I had that to write about. I’m totally lacking ambition to write these days. I just don’t feel like it. I also still have to write about days 2 & 3 in Amsterdam and that was 2 months ago! I’m in a funk. Hopefully I can get out of it soon…

                                                                                                                      

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Rien à Déclarer

That’s the title of the movie we watched tonight. In English Nothing to Declare. Even between trying to listen to the French and trying to read the subtitles I found it absolutely hilarious! A lot of it was the acting and the situation, but still. It’s a movie about elimination of the France-Belgian border in the 90’s. A Belgian Francophobe custom’s officer teams up with a French customs officer as part of a mobile border patrol experiment. I’ve never thought of it while I’ve been here, but how many people were forced to find other jobs when customs checks were no longer necessary at the borders within Europe? There’s a Romeo & Juliette element thrown in as well. If foreign films (well foreign to me anyway!) interest you at all, and if comedies interest you at all, and you don’t mind reading subtitles I would definitely try to check it out. I suppose you could watch it in English, but I’m thinking it would lose a lot/most of what makes it a great movie. And besides that, it’s always best to watch a movie in its original language if possible. I know during one particular scene the Frenchmen was trying to pass off as Belgian so he was trying out different accents. First he was trying out the Liège accent. That didn’t work. Then he was trying to do a Brussels accent. Again, didn’t work. I was able to catch a little hint of a difference, but it was hard because they talk (for me) so very fast and it all sounds French to me! I guess it would be the same for a non-English speaker to listen to someone try different American, United Kingdom, Canadian accents. To us English speakers they all sounds drastically different, but for others they might not, I don’t know. It’s the only comparison I can make.

I definitely want to watch it again. I was laughing so hard. Actually, some of the translations were a little odd; in the subtitles the Belgian called the Frenchmen ‘frogs’ all the time. But what he was saying in French was ‘Camembert’. It’s a type of cheese. One that Greg and Adeline happen to like a lot. And he kept calling them ‘cheese-eaters’. At least that’s what the subtitles said. I’m so glad I watched it with them. Hilarious. ^_^

That’s the most exciting thing that’s happened all day. I spent most of the day glued to my chair organizing my blog. And then I go and make more work for myself, but in the end, I think it will turn out great. I’ve only managed to get up to February 18th in the categorizing and tagging process, and I guess that far in searching out, what I feel to be, the ‘most adorable moments’. As far as the food and drink portions go, well, part of that was I’m having fun creating pages, and part of it is because if people do happen to be interested in that stuff me separating it like that will be easier than using the search option. And maybe people will be more inclined to look if it’s all laid out for them. Of course, it’s going to be a while  before it’s all ready and in some ways doing it now is kind of silly since I only have 4 months left (of this blog anyway), but still, it will be here forever essentially, so someone is bound to find it useful…….

From Belgium to Switzerland (ATTENTION: EXTREMELY LONG POST AHEAD)

Have I ever mentioned that I love hills? Big rolling hills swathed in emerald cloaks reminiscent of a sea of Green Riders racing across the land with messages of the utmost importance. Ha ha ha. Ok. I try to be all poetic and it just comes out pathetic. The green riders is a reference to a book with the same name by Kristen Britain. Her 4th book of the series comes out this summer I believe…this was all for VG – she introduced the books to me. ^_^ In France we saw a lot of hills like this, dotted with farms and trees, but mostly just a sea of green. It was overcast and grey for the entire day, with a little bit of rain, but that was ok. When we finally did get to Verbier, the trip up the mountain was a bit difficult because it was getting dark and very foggy. Let me back up a bit…

I’ve included a link with our route. We drove through Belgium and into Luxembourg – through France and finally Switzerland. After we stopped for an early lunch in Luxembourg I got behind the wheel. I wasn’t driving more than 10 minutes (maybe closer to 5) when we reached the Luxembourg/France border. I drove for about 2.5 hours, through Strasbourg when we stopped again and Adeline took over. (I just thought that lion in front of us looked funny so I took a picture of it. That’s all, nothing special.)

We would have switched again, but that would’ve meant me driving the last leg of our journey and seeing as how I’ve never driven in mountains before that would have been tricky. After doing it last night I can safely say you would not want to get stuck behind me if I had to drive up on my own. Lots of very sharp turns. We did get passed by someone gunning it pretty fast. You can tell who lives here and who doesn’t! The closest thing I’ve come to the trip up was when my family went out East a few years back. We drove the Cabot Trail and that’s a pretty big hill and can get a little steep. Just looking over the edge from the car freaked me out. Maybe it was my Dad’s driving ;P.

While in France we drove through the Alsace region. My ancestors are from the Alsace-Lorraine area (some from both sides of my family I believe) and when Lisa and my parents come this summer there’s a homestead we want to go to. One thing I noticed about all the little villages in France that we passed was that most of the roofs were orange…. For the most part the driving was easy, with little traffic. There were a few areas the got a little hectic, but I made it through with no problems. There was one time when I pressed on the break a little hard *sorry*. There was also a time when we were sort of close to getting side swiped because this little white car cut in front of me to get around a truck…without using their turn signal!!! It only surprised me a little, I was actually kind of expecting it to do something like that based on the way it came off the on ramp. One thing that bugged me was that every time I would want to go in the left lane to make room for people coming onto the highway there was always someone in that lane slowly making their way past me…they just never did it fast enough for me to move over (or I just didn’t get over soon enough). And I couldn’t cut in front of them without making them angry because I wouldn’t have been able to speed up fast enough to get out of their way! I tried to be observant and considerate, but some people just made it difficult for me. 😛 So now I’ve driven in 3 European countries. I don’t know if I’ll drive a bit in Switzerland or not…Maybe until the border…than Adeline can take over to get us across, :P.

The boys did well. Although poor Sylvain was sick of his seat by the end. He didn’t eat well during the day either. Every time we would stop and try to feed him he wouldn’t eat very much. Once we were here though he guzzled his bottle right down! Bastien didn’t even scream that much in the car. There were a couple of times, but it wasn’t that bad. We stopped at this car park area with picnic tables (in France) for Adeline and I to switch and to stretch and stuff and Bastien was able to run around. At this point it was colder and windy, so the boys had their jackets on (and Sylvain was also wrapped in his blanket). I chased Bastien around for a while, and he chased me. He has this great screech/laugh going on when he’s really excited. It’s nice when we’re outside and he can be as loud as he wants.

It’s the France/Switzerland border!  Freddie and me parked just               across the border in Switzerland.

As we got closer to Verbier we passed a lot of places on the mountain side that grow grapes for wine. It looks really interesting when an entire hillside is dotted with these orchards (right now it just looks like big sticks in the ground). I tried to get some pictures, but I’m not sure how they turned out. We drove passed a really big lake as well and the sun came out for a bit over it. I got a couple of pictures of that, and one turned out really nice.

These are just some random landscape pictures.

It was raining off and on in Switzerland and I remember thinking ‘wouldn’t it be neat if it was snowing when we got up there?’. Well, it was. Just a little, but as we drove higher we saw a few flakes. The view on the way up of the town at the bottom was magnificent, I don’t think I was able to do it justice. It was getting dark so there were all these lights on and except for the fact that there was no snow down there it sort of looked like a Christmas card. I wasn’t able to use the flash because of the car window, so a bunch of the picture are blurry. Everyone was walking around in their snow suits with skis and bags. It was crazy because it was so foggy and there were so many people walking around, I couldn’t really tell where we were going. I was especially glad then that I wasn’t driving.

This is not our chalet.

The chalet/condo conveniently has a garage so we didn’t even have to put our jackets on to transfer everything from the car to inside. Nice. I went to take a picture of the fireplace when we got inside and wouldn’t you know it, my camera was dead. Convenient timing.

I did take a bunch of pictures today, inside, and on the walk we took down to the town center. We got boots for Bastien, sunglass and a snow suit for Clémence and a winter jacket for Adeline. Keeping up with those two (the children) inside sports stores is quite the job. In the first store they ended up going up all the stairs; I’m pretty sure the top floor was just storage and we weren’t supposed to be up there – there was a rope to block it off, but it was down. I quickly did what I could to make them descend. In the next store they hid under coat racks. At one point Clémence accidentally knocked some snow pants off their hanger and then they were going to other parts of the store where the potential for damage was high, but I managed to get them back to their mothers without incident.

It says ‘Canada Goose™ Arctic Program’ I thought that was neat.

I had on my winter jacket, scarf, and mitts and I was so warm! The sun is so bright today, completely different from yesterday. A perfect day for a walk. Of course being inside the stores didn’t help and on the way back there were no mitts, and my jacket and scarf were open. I wanted to buy a hoodie in the first store (it says Verbier on it), but it was 119 francs (I think…it was up there anyway). I’m not sure I want to spend that much on a hoodie. 1 Euro=1.2 Francs, so either way it was expensive! That was in a sports store so maybe somewhere else it won’t be so bad.

*********A few hours later*********

After lunch Sybille and I put the kids down for their nap. Aurore, Jeff, and Adeline went to a concert. I would have went with them, but their friend only gave them 3 passes. That was totally fine because I knew this post would take a while. By the way; the past couple days Verbier has been host to the Freeride World Tour 2011. This is extreme free-style skiing and snowboarding and this is not the first time the finale has been held here. Something about a 500 foot jagged edged rock drop or something. I might have that wrong. I read it in the pamphlet upstairs, but now I’m not sure! Anyway, yesterday was the last day of competition and there are some evening events going on until Wednesday…movie nights and such. So, I came down to where I’m staying (in the Chalet, Sybille owns 2 apartments – one is being rented out this week – and her brother has one right below hers. I’m staying in her brother’s with Aurore, Jeff, and Maëline) and started on this post. She came down to get me after a bit because all the kids were up and the babies were both crying….very loudly! So, we got them settled down eventually. That was around 2:30 when she called me up; it’s 12:15am Monday now.

After supper we sang through some choral music. Well, they all sang and I listened. I chimed in if I knew it, but they were singing from memory and I didn’t know most of the music! It was really cool, with harmony and everything. I came down here around, hmmmm, 9:30/9:45? I took a bath and it was so nice I stayed in there for a while! Was that too much information? Sorry :P. So now I’m finishing up with this post which is so long it might as well be a short story!!!!

Hope you enjoyed all the pictures! I know some of them are too small and far away to really see, but I hope you like them anyway.

This is the chalet.

By now you all know the drill.

You guessed it! I’m not actually going to write about today until tomorrow. I probably could stay up and write it, that’s not the problem, the problem is waiting for the pictures to load. And deciding which one’s to use. That’s what takes so long. Besides, I did a lot of ‘point and click’ so I don’t really know what turned out and what didn’t at this point. And you all deserve a really great post with lots of awesome pictures for so diligently reading this!

You know the Travelocity Garden Gnome? I’ve decided (a little belatedly, but whatever) that Freddy the Panda (the one I got from Charles and Dominique at the airport when I was 11) is going to be my garden gnome. I’m going to bring him with me and take pictures of him in all the places I go. I’ll have to get back to Waterloo to take him there. I’ll take my family this summer. Good idea.

Here is an interesting factoid to take away with you this evening; Energy drinks are forbidden in France. Adeline told me about this as we were driving through France and she had a Red Bull. She told me about her last year of school and how for a couple of weeks after she was busy straight through, every day. By the end she was so tired and when they went to a bar (in France) she asked for a Red Bull and the bar tender had no idea what she was talking about! They’ve banned them for health reasons, and they’re not exactly wrong, those things can be dangerous.

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