Vacances en France – 2018 – Lochnagar, Australian National Memorial and Amiens

Having travelled up from Troyes to Achiete le Grand, we settled in to spend time with Gerry’s brother and family who live in France.

Living as they do in the middle of the Somme department, they are surrounded by many memorials and graveyards dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives during the 1st World War.

Our first trip out took us to the crater formed by the Lochnagar Mine

The Lochnagar mine south of the village of La Boisselle in the Somme département was an underground explosive charge, secretly planted by the British during the First World War, ready for 1 July 1916, the first day on the Somme. The mine was dug by the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers under a German field fortification known as Schwabenhöhe (Swabian Height).
The British named the mine after Lochnagar Street, the British trench from which the gallery was driven. The charge at Lochnagar was one of 19 mines that were placed beneath the German lines on the British section of the Somme front, to assist the infantry advance at the start of the battle.
The mine was sprung at 7:28 a.m. on 1 July 1916 and left a crater 98 ft (30 m) deep and 330 ft (100 m) wide, which was captured and held by British troops. The attack on either flank was defeated by German small-arms and artillery fire, except on the extreme right flank and just south of La Boisselle, north of the Lochnagar Crater. The crater has been preserved as a memorial and a religious service is held each 1 July.

Amongst the many memorialised, at the crater site, is Cecil Arthur Lewis (29 March 1898 – 27 January 1997). He was a British fighter pilot who flew in WW1, went on to be a founding executive of the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) and also enjoyed a long career as a writer.

Lieut. Cecil Arthur Lewis

From the crater we made our way over to the Australian National Memorial & Sir John Monash Centre, about 30 kilometers away, at Villers-Bretonneux.

The Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux is the main memorial to Australian military personnel killed on theWestern Front during World War 1. It is located on the Route Villiers-Bretonneux (D 23), between the towns of Fouilloy and Villers-Bretonneux, in the Somme départementFrance. The memorial lists 10,773 names of soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force with no known grave who were killed between 1916, when Australian forces arrived in France and Belgium, and the end of the war. The location was chosen to commemorate the role played by Australian soldiers in the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux (24–27 April 1918).
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial consists of a tower within the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, which also includes a Cross of Sacrifice. The tower is surrounded by walls and panels on which the names of the missing dead are listed. The main inscription is in both French and English, on either side of the entrance to the tower. The memorial and cemetery are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Touring this site was very emotional and the Sir John Monash Centre provides huge amounts of historical information as well as an intense audio/visual experience.

These are some of the signs along the entrance way ……

And then it was time for lunch which was at the Leon de Bruxelles restaurant, Glisy. Here we had Fish and Chips and moules. Yuuumy!!

The afternoon was spent in Amiens, walking the streets and touring The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens, or simply Amiens Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church and the seat of the Bishop of Amiens.

Suitably filled with history and architecture we headed back to Achiete, for cheese, meats and alcohol.

Vacances en France – 2018 – Moulins to Troyes

Slept well in Le Clos de Bourgogne. Suitably refreshed we had a nice breakfast although it nearly became a disaster when Gerry went to crack open what she thought was a hard boiled egg. The eggs were in fact raw which is why they were sat in a basket by the egg cooker. Luckily a member of staff spotted what Gerry was about to do and interceded, just in time.

Straight after breakfast we set out for our next stop, the delightful town that is Troyes. We had stopped there before, in fact we were returning to the hotel we had stayed at previously.

The drive was event free and we soon arrived the Hotel Relais Saint Jean. Once again we checked in, had a cuppa before heading out for a walk around Troyes.

I wish I could say that everything about Troyes was as good as it had been on our previous visit. The town and our hotel were just as we remembered. Unfortunately, our evening meal was mediocre. We chose to eat in a restaurant that we had used before. Back then the meal was superb, not this time. I had opted for a burger which, according to the menu, was made from boar. It was actually pulled pork. The bun was soggy, caused by the excess liquid in the pulled pork. The menu said home made buns so I was expecting a rustic bread. What I got was a bloody brioche. So sad to say the meal was a sad end to what had been a great day.

Troyes Treat

Our journey from Lyon to Troyes was largely uneventful and the satnag behaved itself. Especially since our hotel, Relais Saint Jean, gives two addresses, the satnag took us directly to the entrance for the secure parking. The other address is for clients on foot. Just take a look at the following photo’s ….

… this is Rue Paillot de Montabert , too narrow for regular traffic, and the location of the hotel entrance and reception.

The friendly staff had us very quickly checked in and,  once we were installed in our room, we set out to explore Troyes.  We were spending two nights here so hoped to get a real feel for the town. Here is what the hotel website and the Tourism Office / Departmental Committee of Tourism have to say ….

Troyes, historical capital of the champagne region, a city of Art and History, distinguishes itself by the beauty of its architecture, the timbered structures of its buildings, its gastronomy, its nine churches illuminated by their remarquable tinted glass windows.

The old fortifications which in the past protected the city have left their place to the main boulevards, which still identify the perimeters of the city and form the famous “bouchon de Champagne” or “Champagne cork” (clearly distinct from the air). Within the city there is a hive of commercial and pedestrian activity, historical monuments and buildings remarquably maintained, preserved and brought to life in order to make Troyes a pleasure to visit.

The “Pans de Bois” or wooden structures are omni-present in the city center of Troyes and especially around the Hotel Relais Saint Jean. Everywhere you can admire the tall wooden buildings, their “Colombages” and rounded features.

Our first foray onto the streets of Troyes took us around the narrow lanes nearest to the hotel. Everywhere you look there are old buildings, some with remarkable features. All have something unique, making them just that little bit different. Whether it be blatant, such as the building colour.

Or more subtle, by way of a carving in a door frame, or even the main building beams.

After our initial exploration we decided that we would eat, return to the hotel and recharge our batteries ready for a full day exploring. For our meal we settled on Les Relais d’ Alsace – Taverne Karlsbrau.

Le Relais d’Alsace, Tavern Karlsbrau – Troyes, France

It’s possible that I had the biggest meal, ever, at this establishment. The main course seems to have obliterated my starter from my memory cells. For my main course I chose the Choucroute de la Taverne. I knew I was in trouble when the waitress brought out a wire frame and spirit heater which she assembled on our table. Shortly thereafter she appeared with a large platter, placed it on the wire frame and lit the heater. She then proceeded to load up my plate with meat, two large boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. Perhaps I should explain that, by meat, I mean a Pork Knuckle, a sausage (pork I think), a Frankfurter, several thick slices of Garlic Sausage and a thick slice of Bacon. She then started to pile on the sauerkraut. I think there must have been about a kilo of sauerkraut and she would have put it all on my plate if I hadn’t stopped her.

An american guy on the table behind me was very interested in my menu choice and I showed him where it was on the menu. He seemed quite keen to give it a try. But, I think, his wife dissuaded him and he had a burger instead.

Needless to say, I didn’t eat it all. I ate all of the meat but left the fat and skin from the Pork Knuckle. There was a lot of fat. Gerry helped out by eating the potato and I left most of the sauerkraut. I do like sauerkraut but the amount delivered to our table was really excessive.

I did enjoy the meal and the knuckle was particularly good. Back home I quite often will have bacon hock when it is on the menu. The knuckle had the same flavour and fall apart texture.

Meal over, Gerry and I, well mainly me, waddled home to the hotel.

Next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we set out again to explore the town. The Tourist Info Office is just around the corner from the hotel so we popped in there and purchased a guide and one or two other items before continuing our exploration. Here are a few other photo’s to give you a flavour of Troyes.

After much walking we stopped for a drop of liquid refreshment during which we, along with all the other customers, were serenaded by a guy and his guitar. He was really quite good although we had no idea what the songs meant. When drinking you need something to mop it up so we decided to have lunch. Gerry had a Croque Madame and I had Eggs Benedict. Very tasty, although the sauce was a very garish yellow.

As the hotel was very close we decided to drop our purchases back at our room. We didn’t make it back out. Opting to relax a little before heading out for dinner. In the end we didn’t make it out for dinner either.

I suggested room service, which Gerry was more than happy with. Our room had a balcony with a table and chairs. So we sat out there, watching the sunset over the rooftops. Gerry with her Spaghetti Bolognese, me with my usual Assiette and all washed down with a nice bottle of Bordeaux.

A lovely end to a lovely day.



To Lyon via The Millau Viaduct

So, fed and watered we left Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon having programmed the satnag for Lyon. Now the one thing I knew about Lyon is that it was north and slightly east of our current location. So I knew there was something not quite right when I spotted that the satnag wanted us to head towards Montpellier. That is south, down on the Mediterranean. So before we joined the autoroute, we pulled off onto a small side road and dragged out our book of maps.

I could see immediately what it wanted us to do but I wasn’t buying into its logic. So, once again it was necessary to try and outfox TomTom. I reset its route with Clermont-Ferrand as a via. It did an about-face with it route plan. Not only that but it was a shorter distance and time than he original plan. Go figure.

Of we set again, back down the roads we had just travelled before eventually heading towards the A75. Now at least it felt right. Also the good news was that this route would take us over the Millau Viaduct. And here some photos to show the bridge from the deck along with the bug splats on the windshield…..

It’s quite a strange feeling passing over the bridge. I personally have never been that high off the ground and not either had my feet on a mountainside or been sat in an aircraft. When you look down on the town of Millau it is just like being on an aircraft as it make its last descent before touch down. Next time we will have to get down under this super structure.

Crossing over we pressed on toward Lyon. Passing through lovely countryside, superb views but we couldn’t afford to stop apart for the necessary pee breaks and a leg stretch.

And then we were approaching Lyon. For several kilometers we were on new roads and tunnels. The satnag knew they were there and, for several kilometeres, could  tell us the speed we were going, but couldn’t tell us if we were breaking the law. Then, due to road works, we had to follow a deviation. Stop, start, stop again. Nose to tail traffic. As we got further into the Lyon suburbs the traffic situation got worse. Amazing since this was a Sunday evening. All we kept saying was “Imagine this at rush hour”. Three and four lanes of slow crawling traffic. Eventually we made it to the city centre and the satnag did a perfect job of delivering us to the front door of the hotel.

Of course there was nowhere to park up, so I double parked and went inside to check in and ge access to the hotel parking. The guy in front of me was having a debate about parking and I heard the receptionist say that there was no parking available. The guy in front voiced what I was already thinking….”The only reason I booked this hotel was because you state that you have parking”. They managed to provide the guy in front of me with access to a parking space behind some bollards. Of course when it was my turn to speak they had no such space for me. I pointed out that my requirement for secure parking space was so that I didn’t have to fully unload the car which had our luggage for a month.

His response to me was I had booked via They had a problem with them not informing clients that if you wanted parking you had to book in advance. At the time I was ready to give a hard time. However, since checking the hotels web site they don’t mention advanced booking so he was tossing me a line.

So, the best I could do was dump Gerry and our overnight luggage in the hotel foyer while I took the car to the Gare Perrache, railway station and its car park, which he ensured me was secure with CCTV. Things got decidedly iffy as I drove off to the station. Immediately on leaving the hotel you have to turn right. I’m driving in France so I keep right. As I pulled out the guy behind me pulled over to the left and joined a single lane. Then I noticed the railway lines, not railway, tram lines. Nobody told me there were trams in Lyon. Just as I got to a right turn, a tram appeared in front of me. I just made the turn before the tram occupied the space I had just vacated. I had to make a circuit of the streets again to get back to the station.

Entering the car park the first thing is you have to take a ticket. The ticket machine is on the wrong side. So I jumped out, ran round the car, pushed the button, grabbed the ticket, dashed back to the driver’s seat and drove through the now open barrier. I parked the car, grabbed a few bits and then moved on to my next challenge.

How to get out of the car park as a pedestrian. I found my way into the railway station, which is also the bus station and the tram station. I eventually found an exit but on the opposite side of the station from where the hotel is.

By the time I reached the hotel nearly forty-five minutes had passed and Gerry was beginning to worry. So, time to check out the room, we grabbed our suitcase, camera and laptop bags and headed for the lift. Challenge number one was to get two people, one large suitcase and three small bags into the tiny lift enclosure. Challenge number two was to find and push the button for the third floor, the control panel hidden by a melange of limbs and baggage straps. Next up was the challenge of keeping my butt and laptop bag clear of the concertina doors which also needed interior space to be able to close before the lift would move.confucious1

After reversing out of the lift enclosure we followed the wall mounted signs to our room. The walls of the hotel are painted either black or a very dark grey. There were no lights on and no “visible” wall switches. All was well as the lights came on, automatically, as we advanced into the darkness. A bit like those movies where the lighting either activates or deactivates with the sound of large solenoid switches clacking at each transition. We didn’t have the sounds.

And so we entered our room. Very clean and tidy. The decor was fresh and modern. Not much space though. With our suitcase on the floor at the foot of the bed there was hardly room to squeeze through. Although there was wardrobe space most of the lower half was filled with a fridge and the upper shelf was all but filled by a safe. So no where really to stow our luggage. Good job we were only staying overnight.

By now my temper was not good. I was pissed of at regarding the parking, I was pissed off at the hotel for their misleading pictures. Gerry calmed me down and we left to go and find somewhere to eat.

View From Hotel Window – Lyon, France

By now my temper was not good. I was pissed of at regarding the parking, I was pissed off at the hotel for their misleading pictures. Gerry calmed me down and we left to go and find somewhere to eat.

According to the hotel staff, with it being Sunday, many city centre restaurants open during the day but not in the evening. Which is exactly what we found. Several, were still open in the evening, but only for drinks. Sunday was the day Ireland were beaten by France, I think.  Of the open establishments serving food, most of the outside tables were occupied with footie fans drinking. Judging by the number of green shirts in evidence, these were consolation drinks. To be honest they were very good-natured and not too rowdy. We eventually found ourselves a bar serving food, mainly burgers, and took a table inside.

Refreshments - Lyon, France
Refreshments – Lyon, France

We both had burgers, not something Gerry normally has, on the basis that this establishment didn’t look like they were up to cordon bleu cooking. And that they couldn’t really screw up a burger and fries. The food was surprisingly, OK. The beer was good.

During our previous three weeks in France, I have been surprised by the variety of beers on offer. Often, when I have asked for a “bière pression” the waiter will ask if I want blonde, amber, rouge, white or on at least one occasion noir. And that is before asking what brand I would prefer. For some reason they always seemed please when I declined Heineken or Carling, especially when I followed my response with a mime of spitting.

We completed our meal and sat watching some of the Hungary / Belgium match while I finished my beer. There was a guy, sat at a nearby table, built like the proverbial brick outhouse. I think he was a Hungary supporter, judging by his reactions to the near misses near the Belgium goal. We left before we became witness to his disappointment at the 4-0 defeat.

River view - Lyon, France
River view – Lyon, France

The following morning, after a fairly meagre buffet breakfast, it became time for me to retrieve my car from the Gare Perrache. Having delivered Gerry and the bags to the hotel foyer. The walk to the garage was executed in short order and I was soon at the floor where I had left the car. Unfortunately, the ticket machine was being worked on. Eventually the engineer closed the cabinet and I submitted my ticket. The display requested that I deposit 20 euro but steadfastly refused to accept my 20 euro note. It was then that the engineer stepped forward and informed me that the cash section was not working, that I could only pay by credit card. The machine had not such indications displayed. So, having settled up, I arrived at my car.

Thankfully, untouched and intact. Navigating my way to the exit I then had to repeat the previous evenings athletics. Arrive at ticket machine, jump out of the car, run round to the opposite side, insert ticket into machine. Dash back to the driver’s seat and wait for the barrier to rise.

It didn’t rise. Now what ?

Looking across the car I spotted that it wanted to give me my ticket back. So it was out of the car, go grab the ticket, back to the drivers seat. Up goes the barrier, I moved forward only to be presented with a second barrier ,which only went up when the first barrier was down. I assume this is to prevent tailgating.

Eventually I was allowed to exit the garage but on the opposite side of the railway / bus / tram station. I didn’t recognise the roads so I had to program the satnag and wait for it to calculate the many thousands of possible routes. Meanwhile I was having to drive away from the garage, so as not to cause a roadblock, for those who knew where they wanted to go.

Thirty minutes, or so, later I arrived back at the hotel and we loaded our luggage into the back. And then, satnag reprogrammed for Troyes, we were off to play with the Monday morning traffic. Amazingly, the traffic was a lot lighter leaving Lyon than the previous evenings traffic had been

I have probably done Lyon a huge injustice by not spending more time as a tourist. Also, it was probably a dumb decision booking a hotel in the town centre when it was just an overnight stop.

I guess I learnt another lesson.


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