Trip Start Nov 01, 2006
Trip End Oct 15, 2008

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Flag of France  , Picardy,
Friday, April 25, 2008

ANZAC day, if I had never joined the army reserves I would never have gotten up for a dawn service, not if my life depended on it. Now though, even when I am not being paid for it, I manage to get myself up at 3:30am to go. This year it was in France at a small place called Villiers bretneux, this is where the National Australian war memorial is. The name might ring a bell for a few of you (think back to history class) and it should, major battles were fought here during WW1, and as you might have guessed the Australians had a bit to do with winning back this area from the Germans.

To get there we stopped off in Amiens, the major city in this area, quite nice, on a canal, with a big cathedral. We stopped off in tourist info to get the low down on where and when the dawn service was. The place was crawling with Australians. Turns out accommodation was booked out in a 2 hr radius to villers, nothing was available. Some people left not very happy.

Our other major objective was to replace a piece of Clive that had fallen off. The cover to our extractor fan fell off a few days ago. Since it is located on the roof, with out it all there is is a large hole, so it was rather important to get sorted. The lady was rather nice and rang around to about 4 different stores to find the one we were after. The place she tried one only had one left, lucky us. After Dave had attached it with a few modifications (ok not exactly the right one) it pored down with rain, again lucky us.

We decided that we would free camp near the war memorial that night, save having to get up and drive at some ridiculous time. The only problem we encountered when we got there was that there really wasn't a car park and they had stopped cars parking along the side of the road near the site. We found a pub not to far away (about 1 km) and it had a small car park out the back.

So into the pub we went to see if we could stay in the car park for the night. It was only a small little place with a restaurant out the back and a tiny little bar in front. 2 people were already sitting there, and after we had ordered our beer, they turned to us and said, you guys from Australia too? Turns out they had another camper and were going to ask if they could park there too.

The Bar staff had no problem with us staying, so we ordered a few more beers and stayed and chatted for a while. The staff were very friendly but didn't really speak any English, so we spoke in our respective languages and used a bit of hand signaling. They had an Australian flag up on the wall and were telling us how much they liked Australians and Canadians for all that they had done back in the war. We felt very welcome, so we ordered a few more beers.

They bar closed at about 6pm as they were going to be open all day the next day. Dave and Louise (the other people in the bar) asked if we wanted to join them for some wine, so we went and sat in their camper which was a lot bigger then ours . Basically we sat and drank for a few more hrs, had some food and eventually were joined by another couple who were about 65 yo. So of course we had some more drinks including red wine, port and an awful drink called Krauterlicker (something like yagermister) and talked a lot of nonsense into the night. Being responsible we did go to bed by 2330, but when you have to get up at 0330 it doesn't leave you with much sleep.

The Dawn service was really good, there must have been around 8 or 9 thousand people there. We sat down near the front in some reserved seats, that a brigadeer said weren't reserved any more, so we could see quite a bit. There were some cadets from Newcastle there and a choir from Perth cathedral, along with all the usual dignitaries and a heap of soldiers. It was a very cold morning and by the time the sun had come up it was freezing, glad I wasn't in my poly's this year! The bugler was really good as well, he was from the army but not sure what unit. Minter was also here with a tour group, so we got to see him too.

We made a big hot breakfast for us and Dave and Louise, said good bye and then headed off to see some of the other war memorials. The best being the South African one, it was set in a sort of forest and with the way the light was being filtered through the trees it made it quite eerie. We also had to visit the memorial at Bullecourt. There were two reasons for this, firstly the Army barracks at home is named after the battles that occurred here, and secondly I (well mum) had to do an assignment on it when I was in year 7. I found it quiet interesting and thought it would be nice to see it for real.

We were meant to catch up with Craig that night in Lille, in an Australian bar for a few games of two up, but we were so tired that we just found a car park, closed up Clive and crashed for the afternoon. We didn't move until the sun had come up the next morning.

It was time to leave France, and head back over the border to Belgium. We were meant to be going to Frankfurt and heading north from there, but since the main reason we were heading there was for a enormous schnitzel (don't ask) we thought it was too far a drive back the way we had come. So back to Belgium, mainly Gent and Antwerp.

I have to say, we love Belgium, it has to be one of our favorite places. Good food, good beers, nice people and the towns are beautiful! It also helps that almost everyone speaks English, it does make life easier. Gent is lovely, we only stayed for a few hrs, but it was well worth the look around, lots of lovely old buildings from the 16th century, all set along canals, big cathedrals and even a castle. We would have liked to spend more time here, but our parking ticket ran out and there was a camping ground right near Antwerp so we thought we should head over there.

I swear you could easily drive through Belgium in an afternoon. It was only 60kms to Antwerp and here we are right near the Dutch border. Again this is a great city, it has a lot more vibe then Gent but it is a lot bigger. This one is set on a river, and has the same picturesque buildings and a grand place that looks like a smaller version of the one in Brussels. We sat in the sun (oh yes it was quiet warm today) and had a beer and did a bit of people watching. Dave got a waffle (well got most of it ;))and we wandered.

The camp site is only across the river and at 8 euros a night it is a bargain. To get across to the city there is a pedestrian tunnel. We took the bikes over (like most other people here) and took the lift down 36 meters to this long tube of a tunnel and rode the 1km over. It was very strange, but worked really well.
Looks like we are heading over the boarder again tomorrow to Holland, time to see some tulips, windmills and clogs!

Miles so far: 1353
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