War history has never been my cup of tea, particularly the World Wars of the early 20th Century. I've studied them in school just like everyone else; I even had to write my senior paper on World War 2, but I never fully enjoyed it as I enjoyed other aspects of History. So much so, that everything I learned back then, I have now completely forgotten. So when Uncle Davros
and his Lucy
invited Ed and I for a weekend touring the major battlefields of World War I in Belgium and France, I wasn't as excited as I usually get.
Nonetheless, I was quite eager to get back in touch with the Belgian blood that ran through my veins so while Ed and David organized everything, Lucy and I fantasized of cherry beer and Belgian chocolate, and waited for Saturday morning to arrive.
We met with Lucy and David at 3:30 am Saturday morning (which meant Ed and I didn't get any sleep, but David and Lucy were as fresh as cabbages) and loaded Davo's car for the trip. I sat through the drive to Folkestone in Kent under the impression that we were taking a ferry over to France and then drive over to Belgium. Since Ed kept the trip a secret from me, I wasn't aware of the details of the journey, so when I was told we were actually going by train this surprised me, mainly because I had no idea that a train crossed the English Channel unto France. The Euro Tunnel runs not under water, but under the earth itself and transports vehicles from England to France and vice versa in just 35 minutes. Incredible.
We reached Calais at around 7:30am, one hour ahead of London time. It wasn't too sunny but every so often there was a swift break in the clouds which gave relief to the ice cold wind. You'd think that by mid June it'd already start getting warm in northern Europe...but no.
Our first stop was Arras, a town in northern France which was just beginning to awaken. There were hardly any people in the streets let alone cars, so parking was sorted out in a jiffy. We crossed the empty town square surrounded by old buildings which all had the same structure. To me, the architecture was clearly influenced by the Flemish, with their typical angular tiered roofs, and being so close to Flanders, it made perfect sense.
There were a few people laying out their products for the town market which was what we really came to see. According to David, provincial French markets were the best, and although I hadn't really seen any yet, I had a feeling he was right.
We stopped for a quick coffee and croissant at a cute little café while we watched the market start taking shape. The different colored awnings started to emerge, and from nowhere, myriads of people started to pour out into the streets with their grocery carts for their Saturday morning shopping. We didn't want to miss out on anything so we finished our breaky and moved on.
Markets are usually laid out along one single street or on a central square, but here in Arras, the market seemed to sprawl out all over the center of the town, past the square and into the little streets and alleys. Everywhere we looked there was a cart, stand or table offering anywhere from fresh produce, to fish, cheeses of every smell and color imaginable, flowers pots and bouquets, poultry, meats, ready meals including Chinese and Thai, sausages and hams of every kind and texture, morello and sweet orange marmalades, rich chocolate cakes, fluffy pastries, hand woven tablecloths, wooden furniture, shoes, CD's, cosmetics, and live animals.
The fresh vegetables and fruit caught my attention, as not only did they look just picked off the ground, but the colors and exaggerated sizes of the turnips, artichokes, cherries and asparagus were enough to make anyone fantasize about salads and stews. We were given samples to taste from a small melon, about the size of a tennis ball, whose pink flesh practically disintegrated in our mouths. I was surprised as I had never seen such small melons, although Ed said he had, while he looked at my chest.
Lucy and David bought some delicious looking French cheese from a small stand with a long queue of people. Ed couldn't decide what cheese he wanted so eventually we both gave up trying to compromise. I think it was more due to the fact that the local French people weren't too welcoming to us indecisive tourists. As a matter or fact, everywhere we walked we got cold looks and sometimes even
purposely bumped at. You'd think that tourists would be welcomed so that we'd feel more comfortable in emptying our wallets on their products, but no, we were given the cold hard French look of distrust. What the French have in culture and good taste, they lack in friendliness, no doubt about it. It's all good though, doesn't mean I've sworn off France, but it is quite interesting to learn about people of the world while you're traveling.
We walked past a stand of live farm animals. I have to admit that the little ducklings and chicks were the cutest things I've ever seen, and wanted to take them all with me, but I was soon stricken with a sense of impotence as I noticed how incredibly frightened these animals were. Chances were that their fate would end on a dinner plate this weekend, and somehow, they knew this. The ducklings all huddled together in their little cage, quacking nervously for their mother, while the brown bunnies repeatedly tried to climb out of their box and escape. But what hurt me the most, were a group of caged geese (or at least they looked like geese) who were desperately trying to comfort their chicks
inside a nearby box with a hole, where tiny baby beaks popped out frantically trying to make contact with their mothers.
Had I had the nerve, I would've knocked everything over and liberated the poor animals from their despicable, gnarly looking French captor, who even had the nerve to scoff at us
when we were taking pictures. It was hard to walk away, but a little girl in red rain boots enchanted by the geese caught my attention and made me smile.
The market was already quite crowded and we had had enough of French hospitality, so we eagerly went back to the car to drive further north towards Belgium where our tour of the battlefields of the Great War was to commence.