Night Location: Rouen, France
Song of the Day: Viva la Vida - Coldplay
Mumisode of the Day: "I think you could just slip in. You're Australian. It's expected that you should be audacious. Move that furniture out of the way and I'll keep watch." Mum was encouraging both Amber and Gemma to move a church pew out of the way so that we could enter a section of the Amiens Cathedral that was being renovated to take a picture of the tribute to Australians that died in WWI.
Continuing our theme of WWI history we moved on from our home in Gent towards Rouen via Villers-Bretonneux. This tiny village in France is famous for its school with the words 'Do not forget Australia' hanging above its quadrangle. While this might seem an odd addition, it is actually a wonderful story. Returned Australian soldiers who had fought in the battle to liberate Villers-Bretonneux together with the families of soldiers who were killed in the battle helped raise money to rebuild the school at Villers Bretonneux. The village is the sister village of Robinvale in Victoria so Australians are welcomed here. The school building still functions as a school, but one section of the school has been turned into a Franco-Australian Museum with several models and many fantastic pictures of Australians engaged in the Western Front. Somehow this museum made WWI a lot more personal. We don't know what it is, but there is something very distinctive about Australians in the way they stand, smile, have their photos taken and even relax. Really amazing photos and stories here.
The auditorium of the hall has been built using only materials imported from Australia. The carved wood has emblems of Australian animals and in French the same phrase of 'Do not forget Australia' is around the edge.
From here we left the village and travelled a very short distance to where the Australian War Memorial stands. Once again, this was a deeply personal experience as everywhere you looked the white headstones belonged to Australians. The cemetery is up on a slight rise and has a commanding view over the green fields all around it. Toward the back stands a monument on which are inscribed the words said by King George VI: "They rest in peace while over them all Australia's tower keeps watch and ward." We were able to climb the tower (142 steps) where you could see much of the damage that had been done to this memorial during WWII. Bullet holes scarred the white stone. The sun decided that this was the time to make its appearance and it was almost hot!
It was during the visit to this cemetery after Gemma and Amber had searched every tomb stone that it was discovered that the grave of the Unknown Soldier used for the Canberra War Memorial lay in the Adelaide War Cemetery back in Villers-Bretonneux so this is where we went. This was a much smaller cemetery, made largely during the battle for the village that coincidentally fell on ANZAC Day in 1918. We found the new headstone that explained where the Unknown Soldier's body had gone, however we are unsure how they chose out of the many bodies that are 'Known unto God.'
Amiens for lunch, this time at a really great bio-restaurant. Everything healthy, locally produced and cooked. So many of these places exist across Europe. Then to the cathedral. It is in this cathedral that the Bishop of Amiens expressed his sincere thanks to the Australian Imperial Forces after WWI. Here hangs a plaque that reads: 'To the Glory of God and to the memory of the soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force (and their) victorious defence of Amiens from March to August 1918. (They) gave their lives for the cause of justice, liberty and humanity. This tablet is consecrated by the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia.' It is here that Mum was encouraging us to "Be audacious," and move furniture out of the way so that we could get a better picture of the plaque.
On to Rouen, a fantastic city that looks incredibly ancient due to its half-timbered houses and tiny cobbled lanes that make up the city centre. Even though the buildings have been completely modernised on the inside, from the street they appear just as they did hundreds of years ago. It is at this point that Claude was in spectacular form and it was only due to Amber's exceptional long-range vision that we made it to the hotel's garage. This was a very daunting drive. There were many near misses with pedestrian zones patrolled by cameras.
We pulled in to the garage, the door went up and we began our way down a tiny ramp. The sign at the entrance read something to the effect of "Narrow drive. Use extreme caution." Being in a people-mover made this particularly challenging. At the bottom of the first ramp, there was a sign displaying two cars, one pointed to an entrance for 'Petite cars' and the other pointed to a down-ramp for 'Grande' cars. Alarmingly, the picture of the 'Grande' car looked like Amber's Corolla (Jack). Interestingly there was no sign for 'Extra-Grande Super' vehicles which is the category our people-mover fits into. Amber shut her eyes and blocked her ears, and Dad, the audacious Australian driver that he is, didn't hit any concrete pylons, or the Audi sedan parked thoughtfully at the base of the ramp. He managed to do a 4-point turn and parallel park without any assistance from the shrieking passengers.
It was here that Amber and David retired to their room for a rest, while Dad, Mum and Gemma hit the town on foot and went exploring. Rouen is home to the Cathedral of Joan of Arc, a very ugly modern structure that stands in the square where she was martyred. The buildings themselves, apart from this one, are what makes Rouen the fascinating city that it is. Half-timbered houses with bowed floors that are on extreme angles are just everywhere you look. Great place for fashion and for antiques. The most fascinating place on the walk was one of the last surviving cemeteries from the Black Plague. Here a mass grave is surrounded by a courtyard with wooden carvings of skulls, shovels, picks and bones together with carvings of the grave-diggers themselves. Fairly morbid, this building is now used as an art college.
Our first taste of crepes for the trip for dinner. Looking forward to this section of French cuisine!