Mike Strachan’s e-mail journal — Entry #16, from France
Received 10 May 2008 May 6/08 — Arras to Boulogne, France:
Tuesday — three weeks in Europe! The 9:06 to Boulogne is a beat up old commuter train, but at least it has a loo on board. It is noisy and rickety, and stops at Maroeuil, Aubigny, Savy Berlette (where the stop is outside someone’s back yard), Tincques, St. Paul sur Ternoise, Anvin (where houses have beige stucco and red tile roofs as in Germany), Hesdin, Beaurainville, Montreuil-sur-Mer, Etaples Le Touquet, Hesdigneul, and finally into Boulogne. The conductor has not asked me for my ticket, so I could have saved a day of travel on my Eurrail pass, but I figure it's better to play it straight.
There are no car-rental offices at the gare, and a cab driver gives me directions to the hotel and says there's a Europcar agency nearby. It's about a 10-minute walk and I'm settled in the hotel by 11:45. On the way into town I noticed floats dividing the river Liane into lanes, and scullers are practising. The hotel clerk calls the car agency, and the I learn that the agent will be back in the office at 4:30 PM. Back to the gare to arrange train and hotel for Ypres, but there are no SNCF-related hotel rooms available in Ypres, but there are in nearby Courtrai about 30 km from Ypres, and I take that one and trust that things will work out.
On the way back to the hotel I drop into a nearby mall to buy batteries and have lunch (soup and pizza). Two Englishmen are seated at the next table (there are lots of English tourists hereabouts), and I strike up a conversation with Brian Whittles, a bike racer in the veteran class who has been invited by the French ministries of sport and defense to march with French troops on Thursday, May 8 in a VE Day march. It is due to his participation in French bike races for 22 years and fund raising for English and French Legion halls. Brian tells me there will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial at the gare at 10:15 AM on Thursday — my train leaves at 10:42, so the timing is good.
The other man is John who is 88 years old and a WW2 veteran with an artillery unit. He said he was a dental technician before that and didn't like it, so he joined up in a Scottish division. He went to Normandy on June 12 and was shipped out nine days later concussed by a shell burst which caused him permanent, partial loss of hearing.
On my way back to the hotel I find a big shoe store with a sale on and I buy new sandals for €35.50 - not bad and they are comfortable. This helps since its warm out — 25° or 26° — and I can wear shorts and sandals with no socks — nice and cool. So in my new sandals I go to Europcar and reserve a car for tomorrow. An added bonus is that I can leave the car keys at the hotel desk if I come back late.
A hike up the hill to the old town — a walled town with shops, offices, and apartments, plus the chateau built in 1231, which has a plaque to the Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlanders of Canada. This unit got into the chateau led through tunnels by a member of the resistance, to surprise the 20-man German garrison and capture the complex.Outside the gate is a statue to a famous French archeologist who worked in Egypt, a replica of the Star Ship of Cheops (circa 2650 BCE) found at the Giza pyramid, and an Egyptian garden.
Not far from the Chateau is a church, L'Eglise de Notre Dame de Boulogne, very beautiful inside with a separate chapel under the dome. On my way back to the hotel I see two more portals with interesting aspects, and a very out-of-character house painted pink and housing an interior design company.
At the hotel I find my new sandals have given me a blister (good thing I brought band-aids), and my right foot hurts again, and it's swollen, so I think it was definitely bruised, so back to runners for a while. Tomorrow — the Channel ports.