After my trip to Europe, a lot of people wanted to know about the trip.
“Did you have fun?”
While I had been planning the trip, in some way, for almost twenty years, I was never expecting it to be ‘fun’, but I did know it would be a good, important trip. And it was.
I spent two weeks in planes, buses, and long car rides. I travelled through once blood-soaked fields and beaches, walked by rows of the fallen, ran my fingers across the seemingly endless lists of names etched in stone and metal of those with no known grave. If that’s your idea of fun, that’s fine, but it’s not mine. I was also sick for most of that time, so the day or two that actually would have been fun – exploring Paris, or the Salt Mines near Krakow – were slightly miserable. Also, the trip started off with a family funeral; I guess that sort of set the tone.
Three Stories from My Trip to Europe
Despite all of that, it was a good – amazing – trip. I’m notoriously horrible at talking about my experiences without direct questions, but there are three stories I often tell.
We spent April 5th, our first full day of our tour, exploring the city of Paris. We’d finished a bus tour of the city and were enjoying our free afternoon. After visiting Shakespeare and Company, I suggested visiting the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, my favourite spot in the city the last time I visited and a spot I was hoping to revisit on this trip.
We took the metro, arriving a couple of blocks away, and walked along the busy streets to the hill dominated by the white dome of the basilica. We wore our red Vimy 100 jackets, given to us by the company we travelled with – GoAhead Tours. At a table outside one of the many cafes sat an older gentleman and, as it turned out, his daughter and granddaughter. They stopped us and asked about our jackets and that got us all talking about Vimy Ridge and the upcoming centenary ceremony.
They were also in Europe for the ceremony. He was even going to be interviewed by the press at the event. You see, he had been at the unveiling of the Vimy Ridge Memorial in 1936, representing his father who had fought on the ridge in the First World War.
Have you ever made a wrong turn, or been delayed for some reason, only to be rewarded by being in the right place at the right time to see something you would have missed had your day gone as planned? It actually happens to me more times than I can count!
One of those times occurred last month on Juno Beach.
There are many points of interest along the beach the Canadians, along with the UK, France and Norway, stormed on 6 June 1944. A newcomer to the area is the Juno Beach Centre. The high volume of Vimy pilgrims in the region at that time forced the centre to strictly regiment the times groups could visit the museum, and even park in their lot.
No problem. Lots to do.
We spent some time at one of the memorials on the beach, located near ‘Canada House‘. A group of Dutch World War One re-enactors were hanging out near the memorial, dressed as Canadian soldiers. A bus load or two of high school students stood around and took photos.
Yep. Very nice. Where’s the house? We went right. We were wrong.
By the time we got back to the memorial, the Dutch guys had formed up in front of the memorial and started to sing…
“Don’t do it!” One of the students’ chaperones or teachers called out. “Don’t commit if you don’t know it.” Not sure they would have started if they didn’t know it. Then he said, “we don’t even know it!” Really? Even if that’s true, don’t tell that to these guys who are showing their appreciation.
But then… then the most beautiful thing happened.
The students proved him wrong.
The whole point of this trip happened on April 9th. I attended the Vimy 100 Ceremony in France, marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The ceremony was poignant, patriotic, and thought-provoking. It was also a very sunny, hot, long, and at times frustrating day. There were many times we reminded ourselves how awesome our day was compared to 100 years ago. By the time we got on the shuttle bus to return to Lens, where our regular coach was waiting, all we wanted was to get there and, quite frankly, have a beer. (Canadian, eh?)
Then we got on that shuttle and left the memorial site and drove into and through the village of Givenchy. It seemed as if every other building had a Canadian flag hanging from the walls or stuck in the ground.
After the long day, this was a wonderful, sobering experience. A perfect reminder of the reason we were there.
(This 5 minute video is a wrap up of the entire trip. You can see a clip of this drive around the 1:24 mark.)
Stay tuned for more posts about my trip to Europe. Check out my photos from the tour over on Flickr.