Life is a Highway(Tom Cochrane) - Uden,Holland to Connelles,France and Paying our Respects to WW1 Victims on the Way - 19th July 2016

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July 19th 2016
Published: July 25th 2016
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We have another 500km ahead of us today but pretty much highway driving all the way although we do want to try and make two stops on the way.

We had seen a TV news item when Prince Harry had visited Thiepval Memorial on the Somme to commemorate 100 years since the battle and we would like to see it as the structure is huge and has the names of all the missing/dead Allied soldiers whose bodies were never found. The memorial is not far off the route we need to take to our destination at Connolles, France.

Because we are old fans of the TV series ‘Allo Allo’we also want to have a look at the French town of Nouvion that it was based upon. Not that we really expect that it will look anything like the television studio set they used in the production of the long running series. This is a little further out of the way and it will depend upon our departure time and progress on the highway whether we get there or not.

First though we need to open the emails and check to see if the email from DHL Couriers is there with the tracking details for the package containing the passport.

Looking out the dormer window of the thatched roof the day is another absolute cracker and it was tempting to have breakfast down in the garden but checking the emails was more important.

After sorting through all the usual stuff that we probably should have unsubscribed from before we left home the elusive email wasn’t there.

We really wanted to be on the road by around 9am and it would be another hour before we could contact the Passport Office in London because of the time difference.

We packed up and said our goodbyes to the Freddy Mercury lookalike owner and we were on the A50 heading south towards the Belgian border within a few minutes and it was 28C already. Thank goodness for a very efficient a/c system in the car keeping us at 21C.

The A50 had a steady flow of traffic with the truck volumes building as we motored south and we weren’t able to maintain as high a speed as we wanted for what seemed like an age because of a bus that stayed out in our lane when it should have been in a far right lane dedicated to buses! The driver must have had the notion that being to the right of the lane that had virtually trucks in it was going to slow his progress.

Eventually he did overtake the line of trucks trundling along at 80kph and we then passed him and got on our way with a bit more speed.

We took a petrol stop near Antwerp to check the emails as the opening time of the Passport Office had passed. The 30C heat outside the car didn’t help our ‘heat ‘not to find anything from either the Passport Office or DHL.We just couldn’t be sure if it was on its way to Paris.We sort of felt that we had had more than our share of help from Stacey at the Passport Office and we didn’t want to bother her when she had already said that the passport had been completed.

Antwerp is clearly a very bust port and the numbers of trucks on the A1, which we had moved onto from the A50, were as great as have seen at any time on the BBA V3 or perhaps it just seemed that way because the maximum speed we could manage on the 120kph highway in either lane was around 80kph and all the traffic seemed to bunch up.

Directions from Gina became a problem too as we passed through the outskirts of Antwerp when the road forked and we went too far left and ended up off the highway and although it was only a few kilometres before we got back on the exercise had taken up 30 minutes of time.

We were still on the A1 and clearing Antwerp saw our progress pick up again and we were passed Gent and approaching the Belgian/French border which was the last place we expected we might get stopped and our passports checked because of the high security that was supposedly now happening in France since the Nice killings.

With the border a couple of kilometres away the road came down to one lane and while it looked like it was for repairs on two bridges we crossed we also felt that there may also be checks happening on the border and this was a way of slowing down the traffic for authorities to pull over vehicles they wanted to inspect.

And sure enough that was what it was. The old border buildings had been removed long ago but the road going into France followed a path that took it away from the road going into Belgian that was still straight.

Ahead were a couple of tents erected on the side of the road but the traffic wasn’t being stopped.

Why not, we wondered? Not that we wanted to be stopped with one of us only having an official passport.

It was 30C outside of the car, it was ‘lunchtime’ (the French stop for 2 hours for lunch) and the half dozen or more French policemen were sitting in the rear of their 2 vans, some even looked like they were asleep! Security for France, what a joke!

Still it cleared our last possible border check for us and we avoided eye contact as we went past the spot closest to where the vans were parked just in case one of them thought they had better get back to their real job in hand!

Lille came and went and the road was now passing through the rural French countryside that we have come to enjoy so much. The rolling hills, the different colours of the crops from yellow through green, now that summer was really here plus the little villages mostly perched on the higher ground with a church spire marking the location of each one of them.

To us it is quintessential France and a scene that we love about travel in this country.

The temperature had continued to climb and at our stop at a Le Clerc supermarket in Arras it was 34C and to us felt like it was sweltering.

By the time we got back to the car after our short shopping break the temperature had soared to 40C, although the car had been standing in the sun.

Heading away from the supermarket we thought our progress might be blocked for a while by a truck that had attempted to drive under a stone railway bridge, wide enough for several lines, and had got stuck because it was too tall. Our path ahead was blocked as was any idea of reversing out of the situation.

Then a young woman who was walking came to the truck driver’s rescue and with hand signals from her he slowly edged his way through with just enough clearance by moving to the side of the road where the camber took the top of the truck away from the underside of the bridge.

We had had so many delays and our progress hadn’t been fast enough that we abandoned the Nouvion diversion but kept the Thiepval Memorial on the list to visit even if only briefly.

We took the D917 and then onto the D929 stopping for lunch in one of the little pull offs that you find in France which usually have a tree or tow planted at them. There was one tree but the angle of the sun didn’t provide any shade to have a boot lunch and so we sat indoors with the passenger door open, which was where the shade was to have our sandwiches and delicious sweet treat. Yes we are back in France!

A short distance on we turned towards the town of Authuille and the massive WW1 memorial of Thiepval.

There were a number of people visiting also as we arrived and most of the number plates of the cars were GB(Great Britain) along with a couple of buses also from Great Britain. There was also one car with German registration plates.

There is an extensive display of photos and text telling the history of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and a museum. Entry to the building is on path through several mounds which had paper or cardboard red poppies by the thousands each with a message to those who lost their lives here.

Picking our way across the melted tar of the road we approached the memorial which we can only describe as massive. We had seen the structure far away from the road as we approached but you can only appreciate its size when you are close up or inside it.

Inscribed on all of the walls that face inwards are the names of the men whose bodies were never found to bury. The numbers in tens of thousands are just astonishing!

The only slight distraction to our visit were the numbers of what looked like teenage English school girls in small groups of half a dozen or so who seemed to be more interested in being on holiday or whatever their reason was for being here, with their ‘besties’ (which we assumed to mean mates) Their accent sounded like they were from Essex and had that ‘Beckham’twang which is not the greatest advertisement for the English abroad!

On our way back to our route south we passed by a small Australian memorial and as that was all we found of the ANZAC influence we stopped at that too to pay our respects.

The visit had been quite moving in many ways and one we were pleased we had taken even though we will be a bit later than we wanted to be in arriving at Connelles.

We are not sure if it had been the heat, now 36C, or the moving visit to the memorial but we had programmed in a route to Connelles that took us a way we hadn’t expected and seemed to add more time until we arrived.

However we didn’t recognise this until it was too late and instead of going due south from near Amiens we went west towards the coast, away from our destination and then south being closer to Rouen than we needed to be.

If there is one thing we would say to Peugeot about the Euro lease cars would be to fit a GPS that gives you to programme in the actual road numbers you want to travel on.

We were eager to check the emails after our arrival at an apartment which is in a resort beside the River Seine in the l’Eure district south east of Rouen.

Still nothing from DHL Couriers and now it was too late in the day to reach anyone at the Passports Office. So we emailed the Paris embassy and asked if they could contact us when the package arrived hopefully tomorrow, Wednesday.

All we could do now was sit back with pre dinner nibbles, a large cold beer and then have dinner.

Well that wasn’t quite all. Gretchen went off for a swim in the resort pool while I checked to see if the bill payment for the top up of the two currencies had worked. It had and our funds on hand were boosted just as long as the secondary card continued to work.

The Loaded for Travel situation still wasn’t sorted completely and we felt that we had given them ample time to get it right. After all we won’t have been the only people to have had to report a stolen card and if this uncertainty happened to others then they needed to sort out their systems.

We waited until 10.30pm out time which meant their full team to take enquires would be at work in NZ and telephoned.

What happened over the next 3 hours I won’t go into in detail. Needless to say we became more frustrated with disconnected calls and then promises to contact us back (we didn’t want to put on hold while they found out answers to questions we believe they should have known as a help desk).The return calls to us were never made and finally at 1.30am in the morning we gave up and went to bed.

Tomorrow or should we say later this morning we might have a reason to drive the 208km round trip to Paris to pick up the replacement passport and I would be ‘stateless’ no more!

PS:Life is becoming a highway but we were pleased when we reached our last destination in France for a rest.Watch on Youtube as usual

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