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Published: April 16th 2015
Tuesday. Another warm and sunny day. Not a cloud in the sky. Today we went on a full-day guided tour of the Somme WWI battelfields. First we visited the Australian War Memorial near Villers-Bretonneux. It was being prepared for the Anzac Day service in a couple of weeks, and was looking very neat and tidy. We were able to climb to the top of the tower, for outstanding views of the surrounding countryside. It is an inspiring and moving place, and the long shadows cast by the gravestones were emotive. We conducted a brief memorial service at the grave of one of the unknown Australian soldiers.
We then proceeded to Villers-Bretonneux village, destroyed in the war and rebuilt with help from the Australian forces. There are many tributes to Australia there, the main one being the primary school, which was built using donations from school children in Victoria. It is called Victoria School, and every classroom features a sign “N’oublions jamais l’Australie”. There is a small museum there, which was interesting.
We visited a German war cemetery, which was very different to the allied cemeteries, being sited down in a valley rather than on a hilltop. It contained the
remains of 22,000 soldiers, 10,000 of which are unknown. Different in style, it featured many trees, which we were told is preferred by the Germans as it is more like a forest.
In the afternoon we visited le Musée de la Grande Guerre in Péronne. A very good museum, which focuses quite a bit on the personal experiences of the soldiers. Afterwards we visited la Grande Mine, which is the crater left by one of the huge explosions engineered by miners tunneling under the enemy lines and piling large amounts of explosives down there. It was one of seventeen set off simultaneously prior to an early morning attack on the German lines.
Wednesday. Return to Paris by train. This was an Intercity train, not a TGV, but still scooted along at around 160 km/h or so. They do like quick train travel here.
Back in Paris, I engineered some free time for myself and searched out ‘Helmut Newcake’, which is a French patisserie where everything in the store is gluten-free. I purchased a number of pastries (I had been long-anticipating this visit), all of which look and taste fantastic – since this shop can make
flawless pastries gluten-free, why can’t one buy them in more places? Prices similar to other patisseries too. I also visited another shop, which stocks a huge range of Tintin memorabilia.
In the afternoon we visited Montmartre. It was a very warm day, 26 degrees, so with the crowds it was quite hot up on the hilltop. Montmartre was nevertheless spectacular as always, especially the Basilica.
I bought a painting too, though not at Montmartre where the prices are exorbitant – I bought it in Paris, on the left bank near St Michel.
In the evening we attended a piano recital at La Philharmonie de Paris, our taste of high culture. The pianist was Elisabeth Leonskaja, a Russian pianist performing an all-German program in a French venue, watched by us Australians (and others!). A late finish to the day, getting back to our hostel around 11.30pm.
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