Days 89 – The End Of A Journey

Our final day with the bike was Wednesday 12th October. It was a short ride of 25 km but involved a fair amount of work.

First on the agenda was to wash the bike to keep the Australian Quarantine people happy. It certainly needed it as I’d only had one other opportunity to wash it on the trip and that was in Mandello six weeks previous, so there was plenty of grime to wash off which we did at a car wash.

It looked great after some pampering.

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We then proceeded to the shipper’s facility

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Here, while Norma sorted out our gear, I stripped the bike down and loaded it into its crate ready to be shipped back to Australia.

We’d had an amazing once in a lifetime experience. All up we’d covered 10,800 kms over 56 ride days and 90 travel days, so we’d had a few days off along the way. We spent $1590 on fuel averaging 14.5 km/l.

The short story of the  conclusion to our trip commenced with the shipping company once again kindly transporting us, this time the 45 km to Rotterdam where we stayed for 2 nights before catching the Very Fast Train to Paris which travelled at 300 km/hr, then onto Dieppe where we caught the late afternoon ferry to Newhaven on England’s south coast where we stayed the night before busing it through to Worthing where we spent two days with Bruce and Sheila Martin, a truly lovely couple who I’d boarded with back in 1970 when I was in the UK. We had a great time being the first time we’d seen each other in all that time.

On Monday 17th October we trained even further west along the southern coast past Portsmouth, Southampton and Dorchester to a little village called Burton Bradstock where my sister Jill and her husband Phil lives. We spent a wonderful 9 days travelling around Dorset and Somerset, visiting Bath and various other beautiful towns as well as spending a perfect day on the their 45ft power yacht cruising along the coast. Of course we ate far too much and laughed just as much.

Wednesday 26th October saw us on the train heading for the London area via the military cemetery at Brookwood where we visited the grave of Norma’s uncle, her Dad’s brother Richard, who lost his life during WW2. It was a good thing to do.

We then spent 2 delightful days with my 96 year old uncle, my Dad’s brother Albert, who is a most interesting and well travelled man. Then it was on to London for three days where we did all the sights and battled the massive crowds.

So yesterday Monday 31st October, we caught the train out to Heathrow where we caught our flight home via Singapore. I’m currently sitting in a motel room not far from Brisbane airport where our brother-in-law Cec from Gympie will pick us up from tomorrow and transport us to Gympie. We’ll spend a few days there with family before heading south and plan to arrive in Melbourne on Tuesday 15th November.

So until we can save vast amounts of money we’ll have to be content with planning our next trip, but this one has been a magnificent time for us as we start a new phase of our lives. Watch this space 🙂

Day 88 – To Dordrecht

Our final complete day’s ride was through the prolific and prosperous flat lands of Belgium and the southern Netherlands. We rode the immense Delta Works that hold the North Sea at bay. It’s dead flat through here and a hive of industry as final harvesting and pre winter ploughing and sowing was taking place. The weather was cold at 10c max for the whole ride but it was also a gorgeous autumn day so no complaints.

On to Dordrecht which is the oldest town in the Netherlands and also a canal town. Our comfortable residence for the night was right on one of them.

Once again we wandered the town and sampled it’s beauty and diversity.

It was a 215 km day along superb roads and through delightful countryside.

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Day 87 – In Bruges

Our final layday we spent in Brügge. The central/old town is a truly lovely place, whereas the 2008 movie that highlights it is a terrible piece of black comedy.

Our accommodation was a 5 minute walk into town and we spent a delightful day wandering through back streets and byways,

alongside the many canals

and window shopping the main thoroughfares.

On a beautiful clear autumn day we sampled it’s chocolates and indulged our last ice cream while enjoying it’s many and varied sights and sounds.

We loved Brügge.

Days 84 – 86. Paris to Brugge – The Western Front

Day 1 – To Amiens

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Friday 7th October was an overcast and cool day as we threaded our way out through the northern suburbs of Paris and up the D316. No reason to take that road, it just seemed likely to be the least travelled, and it was until we rounded a corner and came across this magnificent structure – the Château de Chantilly.

Home of the Chantilly Racecourse.

This was as good a place as any for morning tea and des pâtisseries in this town were just the best.

Owing to the windchill it wasn’t the most pleasant of rides as we continued north through Clermont towards the battlefields of The Somme.

We stopped to warm up in Bray-sur-Somme which the Australians captured as part of the general advance from 8 August 1918.

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Then over the ridge to Etinehem which was captured by the 13th Brigade of the 4th Division.

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Next was Le Hamel which was a significant memorial with excellent information.

The battle of Hamel was a brilliantly successful advance made by the Australian Corps under the command of Lieutenant General John Monash. You can read about it here http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/le-hamel/what-happened-here.php

Monash was a brilliant engineer and strategist from Melbourne and is credited with the design and construction of a number of the Melbourne underground rail works as well as the bridge that crosses the Yarra River on St Kilda Road among many other well known landmarks around Melbourne. Monash University is named after him. I’ve read his biography and it’s a great read, and he’s probably the least known hero of Australian history.

The German Ace The Red Baron was also shot down over this area.

We continued on to Villers-Bretonneux and the huge Australian cemetery on a hill overlooking the town which at the second battle of Villers-Bretonneux the Australians recaptured. There is a lot of work going on here to improve the sight for visitors.

And so onto Amiens for the night. A relatively new city because it had been bombed extensively in both World Wars.

190 cold and bleak kilometers for a sobering and thought provoking day.

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Day 2 – To Ypres

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Saturday 8th October was another overcast and cool day as we followed what seemed like a parade of memorials and cemeteries northwards along a section of magnificent country that between 1914 and 1918 claimed more lives than any other theatre of war in history.

Without trying to take away from any other serving nation it is very obvious that the people of this region have a very soft spot for the Australian forces that served and died in these parts, more so than any other nation as there are Australian flags flying from what appears to be every official and many private buildings along the road and we weren’t on any specific road. As we got closer to Ypres the flag of New Zealand joined them.

There are countless War Cemeteries along the route we took, and many Australian memorials. It is extremely humbling to see the sacrifice of blood made by those who gained the least, all in the name of imperial arrogance, greed and power on both sides.

In July & August 1916 the 1st Anzac Corps captured Pozières village and the heights beyond known as The Windmill.

On and on past many headstones wherever one looks to the town of Fromelles where The Australian 5th Division suffered a disastrous defeat in the first major Australian operation on the Western Front in July 1916 and where just recently 250 bodies were found and have been laid to rest.

Further up the road is Messines. The Battle of Messines took place between 7-14 June 1917 and both New Zealand and Australian troops played a significant part with New Zealand capturing the village itself. It is along this line and just prior to this battle that 19 huge mine explosions were detonated. It is close to here that the famous Christmas Day truce of 1914 took place and both sides played soccer. This was initiated by the Germans much to the horror of the British High Command.

We stayed the night right in the middle of the lovely walled town of Ypres that had been virtually obliterated during WW1.

This the sight of the famous Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing dedicated to some 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown. Every evening at 8pm there is a very moving ceremony with the Last Post being played and wreaths being laid. We arrived at 7.30pm and the crowd was already 6 deep so by 8pm there were 100s and 100s of people there, all paying their respects as we were.

 

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Another cold days ride of 170 km.

Day 3 – To Brugge

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Sunday 9th of October and the sun threatened to shine as we left Ypres through Menin Gate

and proceeded up the road to Hellfire Corner. Today merely another roundabout but during WW1 a place where Allied troops ‘ran the gauntlet’ of German artillery as they marched to the front line just up ahead.

We then visited a couple of the mine craters mentioned previously. These were a line of mines along 25 km pushed in under the German hilltop vantage defences from anything up to 500 meters out and to a depth of up to 60 meters then packed with up to 45,000kgs of explosives each. They made huge holes in the ground as all 19 were detonated at 3:10 a.m. on 7 June 1917, and a total of 450,000 kg of explosives went off under the German positions killing 10,000 German soldiers between Ypres and Ploegsteert. Hell on earth!

We visited The Pool of Peace, Hill 60 and The Caterpillar.

On into Passchendaele and the memorial to New Zealand’s heaviest losses of the war as they fought their way across the ground in front of this memorial.

One could spend weeks just visiting cemeteries and memorials along this 300 km stretch of WW1 horror if one had the time and inclination.

From here it was a nice run through the Belgium countryside to the lovely city of Brugge, or Bruges, or however you want to spell it. An easy 90 klms for the day.

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So now there’s only 1 day’s ride left.

Days 81 to 83 – Paris In Autumn

Paris in Autumn is always a good idea so they told us – and they’re right.

Monday we left Honfleur on a cool, read 4c, but cloudless sunny day and headed for Paris taking the ultra back roads through wooded areas and farmlands.

It was COLD and our conversation was something like this: ‘See any tables and chairs?’ ‘No, no coffee in this town’. We finally found a decent sized town that was awake that had a bar with a sun facing window. Bliss. It also had a fountain in the middle of the intersection that this truck and trailer combo had all sorts of trouble getting around. In fact once it had gone through we could see that it damaged the wall of the fountain.

Onward through now flat country, then followed the Seine River

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into Paris. Had to take this photo op.

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Our hotel was in Montmartre and the traffic was bad to the point where the bike’s oil temp showed 160c by the time we got there and it wasn’t a hot day.

Tuesday was an opportunity to work off the side effects of the traditional French breakfasts of breads and coffee with an 8km walk through some of the sights of Paris. To start our journey we caught the incredibly effective Metro to Le Bon Marche, apparently the world’s first department store. And it is impressive.

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There’s something about the Europeans and their public toilets. Be warned girls, this is yours. Enjoy.

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However there are many impressive buildings and endless monuments to see as you walk through Paris.

From Le Bon Marche to Les Invalides and on to the Eiffel Tower – of course – which can be seen from everywhere.

Then to the Trocadero and followed the Seine to the Grand Palace and the Tuileries Garden.

That was enough for sore feet for the day. In the evening we climbed the hill behind Montmartre to Sacre-Coeur and enjoyed these magnificent sights over Paris in the evening.

Yesterday, Wednesday, we started our walk from Notre Dame. The queues were loonngg so we didn’t venture inside. But it’s impressive from the outside.

Bought the sticker and moved on past Pont des Arts

to the Louvre

Once again the queues were ridiculous.

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But, once again, it’s an impressive structure.

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From here it’s a straight line to the Arc de Triomphe via Tuileries Garden and the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. It’s also quite a walk – 2 miles.

We paid our money and climbed to the top which is no mean feat for oldies like us. Have I used the word ‘impressive’ well the views from up here are just that.

Today is Thursday and our last day in Paris. We spent it in the Montmartre area wandering the small streets, sitting in the sun at a cafe drinking coffee and doing this blog, partaking of the ‘sandwich & crepe’ for lunch, wondering at the heavy security presence in the area, sending postcards to loved ones (if you didn’t get yours blame it on La Poste)  and buying presents for our grand kids. Tonight I think we’ll buy a little wine and a french stick and sit on the steps of the Sacre-Coeur church and watch the sun go down. We’ll reminisce on our amazing journey and be thankful for the opportunity to fulfill the dream.

Tomorrow we begin the last 7 days – 4 riding days – before re-crating our bike in Rotterdam and heading for England to visit my sister Jill and husband Phil.

 

Days 77 to 80 – Dinan to Honfleur

Day 77 – Dinan to Mont Saint-Michel

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After our by-now usual breakfast of croissants, breads and jam with coffee we headed west meandering gently through farmlands towards Erquy on the coast before turning north and east for Cap Frehel with it’s 3 light houses.

We followed the coast south and then east through Port-a-la-Duc (seriously) and on to Dinard where we enjoyed our french stick with salad overlooking this inlet. Too bad if you want to go sailing today 🙂

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We missed St.-Malo with it’s walled town owing to traffic and what appeared to impending rain as we still had a ways to go. But we hugged the coast around to Pointe-du-Grouin and Cancale where we began to catch glimpses of Le Mont Saint-Michel in the distance.

Le Mont Saint-Michel is a serious tourist mecca and it’s locked up tight. E9.00 for parking alone with a 3 klm walk was a bit much so we snuck around the boom gate and hid behind one of the dozens of buses. We got half way to the Mont when it looked like the weather was going to turn nasty so we headed back to the bike and just beat the rain to our hotel 5 klms up the road. It rained all night.

Another day and everyone of them drawing us closer to home. 170 klms.

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Day 78 – Mont St-Michel to Grandcamp Maisy

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Autumn has set in with the constant threat of inclement weather as our travelling companion. However today we managed to duck and weave our way around the steadily marching fronts.

Today, after our French continental breakfast, we started the day with a visit to a German WW2 cemetery where around 12,000 German soldiers are interred.  This place was only 2 klms from where we stayed and overlooked Mont St-Michel.

We continued on to the the Cherbourg Peninsular (if that’s what it’s called) hugging the coast and estuaries up it’s western side before crossing over the the eastern and well known Normandy beaches side where we stopped at Sainte -Mere-Eglise for lunch. This town was the first French town liberated by the Allies on D-Day and made famous via the 1960’s movie The Longest Day which showed an American soldier by the name of John Steele hanging from the local church steeple by his parachute harness. He was captured but escaped and went on to fight another few campaigns. There’s a dummy of him still hanging from said steeple.

It was here that we got our first look of what I’d call the commercialization of the horrors, the carnage and the sacrifices of war. Everywhere you look  there’s a business exploiting it turning the entire Normandy Landing area into some sort of distasteful bizarre. They could at least upgrade the public toilets – seriously.

We visited Utah Beach and then pushed on to Grandcamp-Maisy where we stayed the night overlooking the harbour. E54.00 for a complete apartment is pretty good value after 210 klms on the road.

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Days 79 – Normandy Beaches to Honfleur

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Today was a day of reflection of just what sacrifice means. There are thousands upon thousands of graves along this short stretch of earth. OK, many or most of these young men, and some women, may have seen the whole war thing as something of an adventure when they signed up or were conscripted, but the reality was here. The price of freedom in the light of what the Third Reich under hitler was capable of can never be discounted or taken lightly.

For me as a committed Christian, and one who knows what it is to be made free at no cost to myself by one who gave all and paid all, it was a sombre ride as we were waylaid by rain squalls on our journey along this stretch of coast.

 

130 klms for the day.

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Day 80 – Layday in Honfleur

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Read all about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honfleur

And our digs. The building next door is held up with acro props – eek!

Tomorrow it’s on to Paris.

Days 73 to 76 – Treignac to Dinan

Days 73 & 74 – Treignac

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Well if we were looking for a quiet place to spend a couple of days there’s no place quieter than Treignac. When I say nothing was happening, believe me, nothing was happening. It wasn’t a small place either; tidy, immaculate, quaint and lovely, but dead as.

But owing to our tyre troubles we were here for the duration which happened to be until Tuesday because nothing happens in France until Tuesday when we sourced a new set of Metzeler Tourance Next tyres for 2/3 of what they’d cost in Australia. Under the circumstances we’d managed to score a pretty good place to stay with a French born English speaking lady who’d married a South African guy. She was a big help speaking to the French businesses re the tyres although I sorted it myself in the end.

Day 75 – Treignac to Poitiers

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So it’s Tuesday September 27th and the shops are open. Who’s the first likely tyre fitter/supplier open? Google maps is an amazing source of information. The BMW dealership in Limoges opened at 9am so they got my business – everyone else opens at 10am. So three inflations, 140 klms, E275.00 and 4 hours later I’m back in Treignac where Norma’s got everything packed and we’re on the road again. Woohoo.

Destination is Poitiers via a place called Oradour-sur-Glane where, on June 10 1944, a German SS Company entered the village and massacred the entire population of some 647 men, women and children. The men were machine gunned down then burned in a local barn. The women and children were locked in the local church and burned alive if they stayed inside or machine gunned if they tried to escape. The town was never rebuilt and stands today as a tribute to the horrors of war. Not that anyone’s learnt anything judging by what’s still happening around the world today – and I mean today.

We continued on to Poitiers enjoying what Norma called ‘a spirited ride’ on new tyres through back country roads and lanes. Well I certainly enjoyed it 🙂 We’d started late and I had to make up time didn’t I?

We arrived in Poitiers around 6pm. Our digs were right in the center of town and right next door to The Australian Pub which partied hard until 2am. Well what do you expect from a major University town.

For me it had been a decent day’s input of 365 klms all up.

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Day 76 – Poitiers to Dinan

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We were up early and out of Poitiers after breakfast by 8.30am headed for Dinan.

Nothing special about today’s ride. Just the usual endless small villages with their usual enormous church/es. Except of course for our lunch stop where we happened across a delightful patisserie which seduced us with it’s even more delightful pastry type cakey type thing that Norma insisted we have two of – so we did 🙂

Our destination was Dinan. Look it up here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinan

A typical medieval hilltop fortress town with intact city walls and river village well below, connected by steep cobblestoned streets bordered by ancient house/businesses. A truly lovely place to visit.

After quite a long day of 350 klms we enjoyed our walk around the old town with pizza for dinner.

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We travel on.