Mike Strachan’s e-mail journal — Entry #15, from France
Received 10 May 2008 May 5/08 In Arras, France:
The bottom of my right heel is still sore, and I think I have bruised it just forward of the heel. It's not bad enough to hold me up though.
Banners on the buildings in the Place des Heroes (of the resistance movements) say the square is a candidate for inclusion on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.
At the tourist office I discover that tour buses to Vimy ridge only run on Thursdays and Fridays, but a private cab will take me there for €40, so I go right away. The driver is a young man in his thirties and he speaks little English, so we converse in French. On the way he points out a church in the distance which was heavily damaged in WW1 and never restored — only two damaged towers are left.
The Vimy Memorial sits in a park-like setting on Vimy ridge, close to the steep northern side (German in WW1). The southern side is a gradual slope, and the Canadian army advanced four km up it on a seven km front. Almost 3,000 Canadians died here, and it was the first time in WW1 that the various units had worked together under the same command (Canadian General Arthur Currie) to achieve an objective. The memorial is dedicated to the 11,285 Canadians who died in WW1. It is 30 metres high, made of white stone, and is blindingly bright in the sunshine. There are lots of signs and plaques about, and groves of trees are fenced off due to unexploded munitions. A separate area displays mine craters, trenches, and a section of tunnel. The whole ridge was riddled with tunnels in the war.
Another memorial recognizes the deaths of French soldiers in a battle here in 1015.
The cemetery holds the graves of Commonwealth soldiers, as do most of the cemeteries in the area. The interpretation centre has posters and a video program about the battle and the creation of the memorial by Walter Allward. I bought a nice postcard and mailed it at the site. As at Juno beach, Canadian university students are docents here, and one goes to UBC. Altogether this has been an enjoyable experience.
Back I go to the gare after lunch to get tickets to Boulogne tomorrow, and it's either 9 AM or 4:45 PM, so I choose the earlier one. I get some photos of the station square including one of a hotel with a strange mixture of styles, from empire to nouveau. I found out later that this whole area was destroyed in WW2, so nothing is very old.
A stroll into town reveals that everything except cafés is closed, as Mondays are days off here for business (a sensible habit). I get some photos of the market square, city hall, etc., and a few blocks away another big square. Then through some narrow winding streets there is what appears to be a small church. A small door is open, and inside the church is huge — it is L'Eglise de Notre Dame de l'Assomption et de St. Vaast. It is light and airy and cool inside. I exit at the other end, actually the front, and see that it is a very large building with an even bigger annex. At the side of the annex is a park, with an effigy hanging in a tree — it has been there for quite a while. Those pesky students!
Further on I find the ornate entrance to the annex. Down the road is the site of an old hotel, with Rolling Stone lips hanging on the wall. On the return to the hotel I find another church, this one St. John the Baptist, with the stations of the cross in the perimeter alcoves. Back at the hotel I have a snooze and rest my feet — the cobblestone streets are hard to walk on.
Later I update my journal, and I think about what is a common occurrence here — dog bombs on the sidewalks. It requires vigilance to walk here, although it is not as bad as what Tia and I found in The Hague in 1987. A walk back to the gare tells me that it takes 10 minutes and mostly over cobblestones, so on the way back I try a different route on smooth sidewalk and it's only five minutes.
After dinner it's time for a walk to discover a plaque on the wall at the city hall which says that the Belfry of Arras (actually the whole building) has been on the UNESCO world heritage site list since 2005. Later I discover that lots of belfries are also heritage sites. It's light out until 9:30 PM. After dark I got photos of the square, belfry, and church all lit up. The French are experts at creating tourist attractions.
My first journal notebook is now filled up, and I'll start number two tomorrow.