Valenciennes is our home port for the winter and due to low water levels in some of the French canals we have found ourselves tied up rather early this year. With more than six weeks before we head back to New Zealand for the Southern Hemisphere spring we find ourselves with time on our hands and plenty of interesting options to choose from.
So first up we hired a car from Europcar near the Valenciennes railway station and headed to Le Quesnoy as I mentioned in my last post. It’s only a 20 minute drive from Valenciennes and well known to Kiwis as the place where, in November 1917, NZ soldiers liberated the German occupied town by literally going over the wall. Using a ladder. Sometimes the simple ideas are the most cunning. And who doesn’t love a cunning plan! The town has NZ place names and memorials to commemorate the victory and a good walking map to follow.
We drove back to the boat for the night but next morning headed up again to Belgium, first to a chandlery in Antoing, to purchase a couple of new ropes.
Then on we drove to Tyne Cot, (named after Tyne Cottage by the Northumberland Fusiliers who saw a resemblance between the many German pill boxes and typical Tyneside workers cottages), a cemetery near Zonnebeke, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, anywhere. There are 11,900 commonwealth servicemen graves of World War 1, more than 8,370 are unidentified, a very sad statistic. The memorial wall commemorates nearly 35,000 servicemen from the UK and NZ. We found an R B Twisleton listed on the wall who was a distant relative of the Alan’s family on his mother’s side. Considering the population of NZ at the time most people probably have a connection to someone who was killed or injured here in the Passendale area.
(As a side note Passendale is the new spelling of Paschendaele, as is Ieper is the new form of Ypres).
Again we returned to the boat in France for the night. The trip is only a hour each way and saved us the cost of a hotel room.
The next morning we drove back into Belgium and to Zonnebeke where the Passendale museum is situated. This is a great museum with an excellent depiction of the realities of WW1 including trench life and the horrors of what happened here. The 12th of October 1917 was the worst day in history for New Zealand casualties, 2700, of which 843 died thanks to an ill advised attack amongst the mud and rain on the battlefield. The objective was the Bellevue Spur but it was never reached, the soldiers and weapons sunk and stuck in the mud while the Germans relentlessly gunned them down. Horrific but visiting is an experience any New Zealander should undertake if in the area as a mark of respect. Similar to my trip to Gallipoli in the 80s.
To lighten our mood we headed further north to the beautiful and historic Brugge (Flemish spelling!). Wow, this medieval town is unbelievable. Unbelievably stunning and unbelievably full of tourists. Of course it’s worth the hassle of having to weave through the hordes while avoiding losing an eye to a selfie stick because there’s a good reason so many people visit Brugge. The place is all medieval buildings, breweries, canals and chocolate shops. What’s not to love. We did all the touristy things, walking all over the old town, visiting the Museums, the churches, cruising the canals and tasting all the chocolate. Ok not all the chocolate. We also did justice to the Moule Frites (mussels and fries), Jupiler beer and waffles amongst other Belgium favourites. We stayed at the Novotel Centrum using up some Accor hotel points which saved us some €. It was a great three days.
Finally we headed home to Valenciennes. The weather has been really quite cool lately and the next day it rained all day so we stayed in but the following day we made the use of the rental car by firstly visiting the nearby town of St Amand les Eaux (which was mainly closed due to it being Monday) and then did a big shop at the huge commercial centre in nearby Petit-Forêt. Handy not to have to lug everything by hand!
On Tuesday we took the car back (7 days rental cost €234) and got back to walking everywhere again. It’s amazing how much more exercise you get when you don’t have a car. Our next excursion will be by train. Cambrai looks like an option or further to Arras.
As we haven’t been out in the boat we have no new statistics but here’s the year to date again.
Total year to date
Engine hours – 84.3
Kms – 503.7
Locks – 98
Tunnels – 3
Boat lifts – 6
Lifting Bridges – 4