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Published February 25th 2014
Romantic Paris and Historical Lille
When you mention France, most people immediately think Paris, but France is made up of so much more. Don't get me wrong we enjoyed Paris, especially when we decided to explore the city on a 3 hour Segway tour with City Segway Tours.
While a little on the expensive side when you factor in the exchange rate, it was well worth it and my family had a ball with both boys taking to it like a duck to water. Me, well, let's just say that riding a bike is challenging, the Segway was slightly easier but I still struggled for a while with the speed and manoeuvrability. It didn't take long though, and I was soon speeding around (well following the tour guide anyway) taking in the sights.
This tour took us past the major attractions – Eiffel tower, Napoleon's Tomb, Louvre Museum, Musée D'Orsay, Tuileries Gardens and Champs Elysées. The commentary provided by the tour guide is excellent and you get time in most locations to take photo's.
My husband has been here before so he had a fairly good idea of what he wanted to see and the Montmartre was very high on the list. He was a little disappointed to find that he couldn't take photo's inside the chapel, however once we had joined the queue it wasn't very long before we were inside and the view was simply stunning. It was quite a climb up the hill, but if you take it slowly it is achievable.
We stayed in Montparnesse and got the subway to most places. To get to Montmartre get off the subway at Anders or Abesses. Anders is a slightly longer walk from further down the hill but depending on where you are staying can be easier. It also makes it possible to explore the area on your way up and down the hill. If you do not want to walk up the hill there is the Funiculaire de Montmartre; a cute tramcar which rides up and down the hill for a small fee.
Chocolate shops are a dime a dozen in Paris, however if you are as interested in chocolate as most of us, there is a very nice chocolate shop to explore on the way down the hill. Most of the chocolatiers have quite incredible displays and this particular one did not disappoint. Along with the chocolate Eiffel Tower they also had a Spanish galleon on display. Of course, we couldn't help ourselves and had to buy supplies for later!
All in all our Paris adventure was memorable, from getting the fast train from Amsterdam, to getting off the local train at the wrong station (my family still insist I got us lost, I will always maintain I misplaced us), but the real reason we were there was to pass through on our way to the Somme.
This was a personal pilgrimage I had wanted to do since commencing my family tree and finding out that my great grandfather had given his life for his country in World War I. So, after a week in Paris we again boarded the train and found our way to Lille.
What we found here was a beautiful small town blessed with outstanding architecture. Sleepy laneways were a joy to wander down, taking in the shops and other sights. On one of these trips we found Saint-Maurice's Church. I have to tell we've seen many, many churches on our travels, from small country chapels to St Paul's and Westminster Cathedrals and they are all beautiful and special in their own way, but none, I'll say it again none touched me so deeply as Saint-Maurice's.
I'm not a religious person but I do classify myself as spiritual and I often feel at home in historical buildings. What first struck me about Saint-Maurice's was the colour of the walls; the age of the building was clearly evident. Glass windows in churches are generally beautiful however as you can see those in Saint-Maurice's are clearly exceptional.
Here we also found a statue of Joan of Arc. Whether or not you believe her story you cannot deny that she was a fine example of a beautiful, strong lady who never gave up on what she felt was right.
However, what touched me the most was the dedication to the million British men and women who gave their lives for their country and for the protection of France during World War I. We were there for me to say goodbye to a great grandfather I had never had the privilege to know, and this dedication touched me deeply.
Our journey to the Somme was taken with Back Roads Tours. We did one day of a three day tour, possible only due to the flexibility of this tour company.
Back Roads Tours conduct small group tours, giving guests the opportunity to make decisions about what they want to see within the parameters of the itinerary and sometimes outside the itinerary. You see, I wanted to go to Pozieres, I knew that this was where my great grandfather's name was on the memorial wall, but this particular cemetery was not on the itinerary. However, Back Roads Tours and our brilliant tour guide made this possible for me and with the agreement of the other guests, took the time to divert just a short way for me to achieve my dream. I can never thank them enough.
On this tour you will see many places and hear many stories mostly about Australia's part in this war. The gates below are the entrance to just one of the hundreds of cemeteries which dot the landscape. During the war many were buried where they lay and they have since been exhumed and reinterred in larger cemeteries, however the reality of war is glaringly obvious.
Despite all this, the peace now upon this place is palpable; it is a beautiful landscape. However, every now and then as you drive around and explore, small scars of war show themselves to ensure that you never forget what happened here.
It is hard to believe that almost 100 years ago the field above was filled with fighting and bloodshed and this beautiful laneway was alive with war. We are not yet finished with the Somme and the battlefields and will one day return to see more.