Au revoir Arras

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LOOKING OUT AT THE PLATFORMS OF GARE DU NORD

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The final day of our trip was another journey out of town. We were heading to Arras, a town approximately 180 kilometres north of Paris.  We walked to Gare du Nord train station and got ourselves some breakfast, before boarding the high speed train which would put us in Arras just over one hour later. From there, we took a cab to Vimy Ridge (as seen in our Remembrance Day blog on November 11th).

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THE TOWN OF ARRAS HAS A CHARMING CENTRAL SQUARE THAT IS OFTEN FILLED WITH VENDOR STALLS

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I will skip past our trip to Vimy Ridge as it is covered already,  and pick up after we were driven back into town at a little after 1 in the afternoon.  The morning markets were just clearing away so we decided to find a place to eat.  We settled on a restaurant off the main square that offered mulled apple cider and a galette … a buckwheat crepe with a filling.  We chose one that included ham, emmental cheese and an egg on top.

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A GALETTE IS A TASTY BUCKWHEAT CREPE

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SAUNTERING AROUND THE TOWN OF ARRAS WE DISCOVERED MANY LOVELY BUILDINGS

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Arras is popular with tourists due to the wonderful architecture, the medieval caves that honeycomb the chalk foundations below the streets, and its history connected to being close to the front in World War I.

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THE TOWN HALL NOW ACTS AS THE INFORMATION CENTRE

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We made our way to the information centre and discovered that we could do a tour of the chalk caves beneath the streets, climb the bell tower, or take other tours of the war monuments and graveyards in the vicinity.  We only had a few hours, so we started by taking the elevator to the top of the bell tower and climbed the 40 stairs (on a wobbly spiral staircase that involved looking straight down to get your footing) to the outer viewing platform.

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THERE IS A NICE VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE ARRAS BELL TOWER

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By chance, we ran into a stage manager I had worked with, and we climbed the tower together.  The picture below is Virginia and I expressing delight and surprise at our chance meeting.

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COLLEAGUES REUNITE 6000 MILES AWAY FROM TORONTO

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After climbing back down those 40 stairs, (even scarier on the way down) and then taking the elevator to the ground floor, we explored the various exhibits, including these grand puppets which are used in summer and winter festivities.  They were very, very tall!

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SCOTT CAN’T BELIEVE HOW BIG THESE PUPPETS ARE!

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We booked a tour of the Wellington Quarry, which is an area of the tunnels where the New Zealand Army Corp made a name for itself digging through the chalk at record speeds to help the British secure Arras during World War 1.  The quarry dates back many hundreds of years earlier, when it was mined for the chalk.  These caves provided the starting point for the allied forces to tunnel in under the enemy front lines during World War I, and were used for bomb shelters in World War II.  The streets beneath Arras are pocketed with caves.

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THIS MEMORIAL WALL BESIDE THE WELLINGTON QUARRIES IS INSCRIBED WITH THE NAMES OF LOCALS WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN THE WAR

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PETE LOOKS AT THE VARIOUS EXHIBITS INCLUDING SHELLS AND MORTARS.  THE CANADIAN FLAG FLIES ALONG WITH OTHER FLAGS OF NATIONS THAT FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I IN ARRAS

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THIS EXHIBIT SHOWED WHAT A FRENCH SOLDIER WOULD BE GIVEN AT THE START OF A YEAR INCLUDING A PISTOL, THERMAL GLOVES AND A GAS MASK

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IN ORDER TO ENTER THE CAVES YOU MUST WEAR A HELMET TO AVOID BUMPING YOUR HEAD AND AVOIDING DRIPS FROM THE ROOF.  THE YELLOW DEVICE AROUND PETE’S NECK CONNECTS TO THE HEADSET FOR THE AUDIO FOR THE TOUR.

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The tour of the Wellington Quarries was fascinating.  A bilingual guide took us 60 feet underground in an elevator, and then led us from cave to cave along a dimly lit boardwalk on a 1 kilometre round-trip journey.  At various points along the route, the headset you are wearing has a GPS and connects into audio that matches video screens that have been mounted into the caves and show film clips depicting the lives of the soldiers during the war.

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THE GREEN GLOW ON THE CHESTS OF THESE VISITORS MEANS THEY ARE WITHIN RECEIVING RANGE OF THE NEXT AUDIO SECTION OF THE TOUR.  WHEN IT IS RED, YOU MUST MOVE CLOSER TO THE GUIDE UNTIL IT TURNS GREEN AND THEN YOU CAN HEAR HER (OR THE AUDIO FOR THE VIDEOS) CLEARLY

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THESE MARKINGS HELPED TO ENSURE THE SOLDIERS DIDN’T GET LOST IN THE MAZE OF CAVES AND TUNNELS

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THE CAVES EXTEND MANY MILES

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THESE DRAWINGS (DONE BY SOLDIERS TO PASS THE TIME), HAVE BEEN PROTECTED WITH MESH.  THEY ARE MODERN CAVE DRAWINGS

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AT VARIOUS POINTS IN THE TOUR, VIDEO SCREENS COME TO LIFE WITH HISTORICAL INFORMATION ON THE SOLDIERS’ LIVES AND THE WAR

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OUR GUIDE EXPLAINS HOW THE WATER SYSTEM IN THE CAVES WORKED.  THE SQUARE PANEL ABOVE IS A MIRROR THAT IS REFLECTING THE DEEP (AND VERY COLD) POOL OF WATER BENEATH IT.

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EXIT TEN WAS AN IMPORTANT ROUTE TO THE SURFACE WHERE SOLDIERS WOULD LEAVE THE TUNNELS TO FIGHT …  MANY LOSING THEIR LIVES

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The tour of the quarries took about 45 minutes in total.  It was fascinating and was very reasonably priced at 6.90 Euros.  After we surfaced, we walked back to the town and wandered the streets.  In the winter months, Arras would look lovely with the narrow streets lit up with lights above and the shop windows filled with displays.

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SHOPPING IS A GREAT WAY TO SPEND SOME TIME IN ARRAS

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We caught a late afternoon train back to Paris and made our way back to our hotel.  We would be packing tonight, and tomorrow flying back to Toronto.  It all seemed like it had been an amazing dream.

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WE ARRIVED BACK IN PARIS AROUND 7:10 PM

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We finished our trip off with a visit to a Montmartre restaurant called Autour de Midi et Minuit, where we had a french meal drenched in butter with some lovely white wine, and ended with a fine apple dessert with the slices arranged in a gorgeous flower pattern with cinnamon and … more butter.  And then we headed downstairs to hear a jam session featuring a jazz player that Pete’s cousin knew of.  His name is Olivier Lancelot … a terrific stride piano player.  The evening was a loose jam session featuring local musicians, and the location was perfect for jazz … a basement room called … the cave 

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OUR TRIP FINISHED WITH A LITTLE JAZZ IN THE CAVE AT AUTOUR DE MIDI ET MINUIT

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Then, it was time to go home and rest.  We left Toronto on the night of Monday October 3rd and flew home mid-afternoon on the 13th of October.  We had traveled over 6000 kilometres by plane and visited the iconic sites of Paris, taken trips to Arras and Vimy Ridge, Versailles and Mont-Saint-Michel, as well as sampling the fine cuisine of too many french restaurants to name.  It was truly a trip of a lifetime.  On the morning of the 13th, we checked out of our room and waited for our shuttle to take us to the airport.  It was time to bid Paris a fond farewell.

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FENTON & WHITE WAIT FOR THE SHUTTLE TO TAKE THEM TO THE AIRPORT

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We hope you have enjoyed coming along with us on our trip as an armchair traveler.  If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.  Our next travels will be connected to work in Calgary in the spring of 2017.    Wherever you are reading this blog, may it inspire you to make the most of life, to travel, and to learn about other cultures.  Until next time (which will be our monthly arts blog), we bid you a fond au revoir.

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Fenton & White

 

 

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