Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bienvenue à Paris!

After our morning adventure at Monet's Garden (see here) the time had finally come to go to Paris.  We had spent the first 7 days in Europe in much smaller European cities, so the booming metropolitan centre of Paris was bound to be a change.  Famous for art, food and the Eiffel tower, the kids were very excited to finally see the city.  There was so many sites (and so much walking) waiting for them - just 75 minutes from Giverney.  

Adri, our driver, was a master with our giant bus.  But not so much with the GPS.  He plugged in our destination, not realizing that it would take him through a series of small towns - many of which had narrow streets with tall buildings on each side - making it impossible for us to turn any corners.  This meant to had to take out a few garbage cans (and bump a car or two) before we made it back on to the highway and into the city.  Adri drove that bus like it was a small European car - which was both entertaining and, sometimes, frightening.  But after a little bit of maneuvering, we made it out to the highway, and very soon, into the Montparnasse region of Paris (the 14th arrondissement) - to our home for the next 4 nights at Ibis Maine Montparnasse.  We didn't spend much time at the hotel - we walked through the door, threw our bags on our beds, and 15 minutes later were back out the door!  Ms. Kenkel took 6 of the students down to the Champs-Élysées where they spent the next few hours shopping.  And I (along with Mr. Becker and Mr. Dewinetz) took the remaining 20 students to the Arc de Triomphe and the Trocadero.  

This was the first time I had been to see the Arc de Triomphe.  The "Triumphal Arch" is one of the most famous monuments in Paris.  It stands on the west end of the Champs-Élysées in the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle.  It is a monument to honour those who died for France in the Napoleonic and French Revolutionary Wars; it also contains a vault underneath that is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, honouring those without a grave that fell in World War I.  On the ground is many plaques in honour of important dates, military events, and victories.  On the outside of the Arc you will find carved the names of great battles and great military leaders, and images depicting 6 famous battles.  

It is 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, from where you can see the 12 radiating streets that converge at the Arc - like spokes of a tire.  And the views of the Eiffel tower are equally breath taking.  I can guarantee it was worth the hike to the top.  This was the first real moment where our group got to sit, savour and breathe in Paris.  Wide-eyed, they drank in the views, before we walked back down and headed to our second destination.

We took the metro from the Arch to the Place du Trocadero (or just, Trocadero).  Here you will find the Palais de Chaillot.  The hill of Chaillot was first built for the world fair in 1867.  For the world fair in 1878 they build the Palais du Trocadero (meetings of international organizations met here during the fair).  The old Palais de Chaillot was demolished and rebuilt in 1937.  It went through a phase as an aquarium, it had animal statues that were then relocated to outside the Musee d'Orsay, and now houses a naval museum and ethnology museum.  It was temporarily the headquarters for NATO, and famously a site that Hitler stood in 1940 during WWII.  What is it to us?  As far as I'm concerned - it's the best view of the Eiffel Tower in the city.  The garden and fountain below are stunning, and provide marble columns to sit on and take in the views (as a few of us will do later in the trip!)  Our stop here was simple.  Take pictures.  We were in Paris!!  And what picture did everyone want? The one in front of the Eiffel Tower.  Except the Eiffel tower is huge!  So you need to be far enough away to get the whole thing in.  And I knew just the place.  So we set up shop, and let everyone snap snap snap away.  

After 30 minutes off photos, we corralled the students to head back on to the metro to meet the shopping group at our next destination - dinner!!  We had a 2 course crepe meal - a savoury dinner crepe followed by a sweet dessert crepe.  

After dinner we had one more stop - a nighttime boat cruise up and down the Seine.  Paris is known a "The City of Light" - and this was our first chance to see that as true.  We floated past Notre Dame on Ile de la Cite, past the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay, the Conciergerie and of course, the Eiffel Tower.  From the water the city appears quiet and beautiful - a perfect way to end our first day in Paris.  

A total of 14 km of walking and 4 metro trips, we finally made it back in our hotel - about to watch the clock strike 12 and ready for a good nights sleep!! 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Walking in Claude's Footsteps

3 years ago I was in NYC with a good friend of mine.  He happened to be a big fan of art, and me, well, not so much.  It's not that I didn't want to love art.  It's just that I knew so little about it, it was hard for me to understand what I was suppose to love about it.  As an avid photographer, there was one one art style that appealed to me, and painting was not it.  We had gone to MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), and it was the third day we were in the city.  My feet were aching from all the walking and standing (such is NYC), and I just wanted to sit down.  ANYWHERE.  Go my eyes skipped the area and scanned the room for a bench.  And I found one.  Blue.  Leather.  Looked comfortable enough.  So I ran towards it and sat down.  About 2 minutes after sitting (the point where the ache in my feet started to subside) I realized that I was the only one facing my direction.  Everyone else was seated and looking the other way.  So, putting my better judgement aside, I stood back up so I cool turn around and see what it was everyone else was seeing.  And there it was.  Monet's Waterlilies.  Or at least one of them.  The painting spanned the entire room.  It was blue and green and purple.  You could feel the wind swaying through the trees by looking at it, and if I closed my eyes I was pretty sure I could feel the breeze myself (maybe it was just the AC in the museum? It was June after all).  And there was no doubt in my mind, in that exact moment, I had seen few things more beautiful than this.  And that was the day I fell in love with Monet.

Planning a trip to Europe for a group of 30 is not easy.  There are a lot of moving parts - and vehicles.   And when I got the bus booked, and the hotel arranged, and the tour guides confirmed and looked back at the schedule, I realized that on September 1, in our private bus, on the drive to Paris we would happen to drive right past Monet's Garden.  His home.  With the pond, and the flowers, and the real live waterlilies. So I didn't hesitate to add it to the itinerary.  While I hoped the students would be as excited as I was - this little stop was for me. 

As I walked around the ponds and along the streams and over the bridges I told myself that if I was a billionaire - I would buy this place, and keep it all to myself.  I could imagine how beautiful it must have been for Monet - how the colours and light and smells and sounds must have been.  It was a slice of heaven.  The waterlily pond was the main draw, but the gardens and the house itself were equally impressive. In fact, many of our students didn't realize there was "more" around the bend - and took a while to find the other half of the property.  Monet's home was filled paintings of his own, and Japanese art that he loved.  His bright yellow dining room, and beautiful blue kitchen were reflective of the bright colours he loved - the same thing I find myself drawn to in my photography.  My camera was my canvas, and I painted with light for as long as our stop allowed.  

Later in Monet's life he was starting to go blind.  His waterlily paintings reflect that experience - showing the light and colour, without the sharpness or details - given the he was losing those abilities. It is wonderful that Monet never let it stop him.  He continued to love his art, and find a way to make his art, regardless of what life had dealt him.  There is a beautiful lesson in that. 

No photo I could take could truly do it justice.   So here they are - the meager photos, of a beautiful garden, that inspired one of the greatest painters.   Including one that attempted to see the world as Monet did - a little blurry and full of colour and beauty.  

For more information on Monet's Garden, history or visiting, see here.

The vast expanse of Juno Beach

Our trip to Juno Beach was a full, rich and slightly overwhelming one.  The beginning of our day at Juno Beach Centre can be read about here.

After leaving Juno Beach our guide Christophe spent the next 5 hours taking us from the west side of the beach (in Courseulles-dur-Mer) eastward, through Bernieres-sur-Mer and Saint-Aubin-sur Mer.    These three downs hold the majority of Juno Beach (which s I mentioned, is 7 km long).  Driving (and walking) up these beaches you see a few repeated patterns.  The first - memorials.  There are memorial plaques, stones, and flags at an unparalleled frequency.  Honouring different countries, regiments, and people.  Each one is similar, but yet different.  There was a moment where I found myself stopped wondering if these were just on repeat, or if they each had their own significance.  And each is unique - a testament to how many people fought, how many lives were lost, and how important this battle was to the future of the world (also known as our present).  There is the Canada house - the original house that was liberated in 1944, with names posted under it's front window.  There are bunkers, and anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns - still in the cement along the shoreline.  There are local restaurants with the bunkers still attached to it.  Tanks sit along side the street as a reminder, with plaques on them dedicated to various regiments and their impact they had on the invasion of Normandy.  

There was a moment along the beach where Mr. Becker, and shortly after, a group of our students, walked down to the water.  Placed their hands in the Atlantic.  As the group was leaving, Mr. Becker turned around and started running back up the beach to meet us.  When he got back he commented how hard to was to run up the beach.  And how much harder it must have been with 80 lbs on their backs.  Wet clothes and boots, thick military apparel, and of course, a gun in their hands.  "And then", he said to me, "I tried to imagine doing this while people were shooting at me." Trying to understand war is sometimes easier (and then again, harder) while being able to stand in someone else's shoes.  The is a large part of the reason we were here.  

After we finished our time at the Beach we had one last stop - the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery.  Over 2000 Canadian soldiers who died here at the Battle of Normandy are burried here.  Some of the same monuments we learned about from Steve were here (as determined after WWI by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) - the Cross of Sacrifice, and the monument with the phrase "Their Name Liveth for Evermore."  

A lot of our students found this cemetery to be the most moving.  Opposed to the WWI cemeteries, the epitaphs found in this one were much more personal; this made them harder to read.  Lots of love for families, lots of sacrifice.  Honour.  Pride.  Courage.  And because of this, there were many more tears and aching hearts at the end of the day.  Some students walked around for almost an hour.  If we would have given them time to ready all 2048 headstones - many would have.  They wanted to understand.  And pay their respects.  And hear the stories.  If only we had time for them all.

And so our time in Normandy came to an end.  All too soon of course.  Until next time.

Juno Beach Centre

I've been working on this post for over a week now.  Going through 500 pictures trying to figure out how to share, explain and show what we learned, did and saw.  And there is lots.  So first off, I apologize for how long it will take for all the pictures to load, and secondly, you will find this broken into 2 posts.  There was just too much.

I wanted to talk all about the war, and educate you on the significance of every little thing we saw.  My brain is still struggling to process, and there were so many stories, battles, artifacts, places and names - too many for me to recount.  So if you need more information on D-Day and the battle that took place at Juno Beach, I know a great History teacher I can refer you to.  But for the purpose of this post I am going to simplify it - what we did, what we saw, why it mattered.  Our story.

August 31 was our WWII battlefield tour day - focusing on Juno Beach.  We had seen quite a bit from WWI, so this was a shift in the types of stories we were telling.  WWI was more about trenches and WWII was more about tanks.  It was interesting to see the shift in how wars were fought, as evident in the fields (and beaches) we visited.  War had changed drastically.  Looking back on both it could be too easy to see them as the same - just a first and second war.  But the 20+ years in between saw a lot of things change.  And these wars were definitly not the same.

We started our morning on the farm - loading the bus with our faithful driver Adri, as we journeyed 45 minutes to the town of Caen.  When we arrived it was raining heavily.  A few brave souls jumped out of the bus to take a photo of the Caen Memorial (Memorial de Caen).  This is a museum, but currently has a large statue out front of a sailor kissing a woman after the war.  The statue, 25 feet tall and officially dubbed "Unconditional Surrender" is rather controversial.  It was given to Caen as a 70th anniversary gift since the end of the war.  It is based on a picture from Life magazine from 1945 off a sailor who kissed a random women as a celebration of the end of the war.  This stature was created, because as the American who designed it said "A symbol of peace should include both men and women."  However, French feminists want it removed, and have argued that the symbol is actual assault (as coming up and kissing a random woman on the street in France would leave one charged with assault).  I didn't realize until reading more about it how controversial this image really is.

It was here in Caen that we picked up our tour guide for the day - Christophe.  He was our source of education to all things Juno Beach on this dark, somber, rainy day.  The rain did stop shortly after arriving at the beach, but the gray skies never lifted.  This didn't bother me though.  Somehow a sunny day with locals on the beach would have felt out of place for the war stories we were hearing.  The ominous skies were more appropriate, at least in my mind.

We drove from Caen to Courseulles-sur-Mer - one of the towns along the Atlantic Ocean that contains Juno Beach.  Juno is 7 km long - much bigger than I had ever imagined, and stretches through many seaside villages.  Courseulles-sur-Mer is the village that is home to the Canadian Juno Beach Centre.  It was hear that we had our first sight of Juno Beach.  We were able to get out of the bus, walk down into the sand, and watch the waves lap against the shore.  The sand is silky smooth, and unlike the farm fields full of shrapnel we met in the WWI regions, it looks more like a beach for sand castles than war.  Except the the shore line is littered with bunkers all the way down the 7 km beach.  Every once and a while you see a large block of cement in the same - evidence of something buried below.

We have an appointment at the Juno Beach Centre.  It began with an introductory film, followed by moving through a museum about the Canadian contribution to the war, here on Juno Beach.  There were so many video clips, sound clips, articles, posters and artifacts to see - more than we had time for in our 45 minutes.  This was one of the things we lamented at the end of the day - feeling rushed through the museum.  It was hard to rush, but also hard not to - we only had one day here and there was so much to see!  

Our museum visit was followed by a guided tour of the bunkers on the beach.  A representative from the Juno Beach Centre took us down below ground to understand how the beach and bunkers were set up in order to both protect themselves, and aid their offensive strategies.  The springs from the beds are still attached to the walls, and the floors are as cold and damp as they would have been in 1944.  As with our previous battlefield experiences, it is surreal to stand were they have stood.  To try and understand what it was like to have been there.  Not that much older than the students.  Maybe the same age as me.  Maybe younger.

After we left the bunkers we headed down to the beach with our Juno Beach Guide, while she told us all about what had happened here.  Maybe not ALL.  Between her and Christophe my mind is still swimming with information I am trying to piece together.  I had always imagined Juno Beach much smaller.  Like being able to see from one end to the other.  But it wasn't.  It went as far as the eye could see in both directions.  And then after Juno there was Sword Beach (to the east) and Gold Beach (to the west), with the British Forces.  And further west Utah and Omaha beaches, with the Americans.  This was not something you could observe in whole from a single watch tower.  It was a massive co-ordinated effort.  On the 6th of June, 1944, approximately 150,000 troops landed on the beaches in Normandy.  By July 4, it was over one million.  This is the largest seaborne invasion in history, and the beginning of the Allies reclaiming western Europe from the Nazi's.  I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it.

(Part 2 of the trip to Juno can be seen here)

Monday, September 7, 2015

A day in the life

A good friend of mine has a great travel philosophy - Big Day, Little Day.  The premise is simple - when traveling, alternate big busier days with little simpler days.  But I must confess, when traveling with students I often fail to adhere to this principle.  Don't get my wrong - I definitly try.  But when we get out on the road, when given a CHOICE between something, and nothing, the students choose something.  To quote a great number of them, "I'll sleep when I'm dead....there is so much more I want to see."  And that's the truth isn't it?  They've come all this way to Europe, and there is SO much to see.  Seems like a "waste" to take a break.  Except the part where a break is 100% necessary.  On day 6 students didn't think they were tired, until the day was over and they were grateful for our "normal" norman day.  On day 12 though they felt it.  Students falling asleep at the dinner table, and dragging their feet another 5 km.  I digress...

On day 6 we opted for a day of relaxation.  Kept it simple.  After breakfast at the farm (which in Normandy is a baguette, jam or marmalade, and tea or coffee served in a bowl), we took the 45 minute drive to Rouen.  Being that it was a Sunday, almost everything was closed, and the streets were quiet.  All except the local markets.  We broke into small groups of 6-7 and began to wander the streets.  My group headed to the Notre Dame Cathedral first, before walking over the Vieux Marche - or the Old Market.  It is located in the town square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.  Now there is a memorial to her, and a new church in her name.  The memorial has a wall, a garden, and a cross erected in the square.  Joan was burned at the stake in 1431, burned 3 times to ensure she was ash and that no relics of her body could be collected.  She was then thrown in the Seine.  Joan was considered a heroine in France during the Hundred Years War. Joan claimed to have visions from angels, that helped her aid Charles VII to reclaim France from the English.  She had great success, but at the age of 19 was captured by the English who put her on trial for a variety of charges - the main being heresy.

My group walked through he square and then the market - which contained only food and was frequented by locals.  Vegetables, Seafood and Fruit were popular, and stands with fresh Paella and other dishes were beginning to pop up.

We then headed for the biggest of the Sunday markets - Marche de la St. Marc.  Still a "locals" market, there were also stands with watches, underwear, chairs, records, used goods, clothing, cheese, dried fruit and more.  It was wonderful to be able to walk among the locals and see how they would spend their Sunday.  The regular shops of town were all closed, though we did stop at Monoprix, the local grocery store, in a hunt for something to drink.  And then there was the macaron shop - for our students first taste of a real French pastry.  It was also their first opportunity to be placing orders in French.  I was so impressed with their efforts, as were there, but of course equally overwhelmed by people responding in French MUCH faster than they were ready for.

After the market, it was time for lunch.  While some groups went for pizza, our group wanted FRENCH food - so we sought out a creperie. PERFECT choice!  What better way to start your time in France?!

After lunch we headed home.  The Monoprix was closed and markets were shut down by 1:00 PM.  Sunday's are quiet days with the family in France, and these was evident in the quiet streets of medieval Rouen.  So we headed back to the farm.  At this time a few students elected for laundry and a nap, another pair for a walk, and 1 for a run around the nature preserve.  The remaining 21 students elected for some good fashioned down time - at the BEACH!  Just a 10 minute walk from the farm was a local lake and beach.  Soft sand, cold water (which was nice given the muggy day we were having!), mini-golf, ice-cream, and fun with friends.  The beach was filled with locals and their families enjoying quality time together, and it was evident that we were the only tourists on the block.  It was fun to be able to let go and enjoy some relaxation and fun together while still engaging with the locals.

After the beach we had dinner back on the farm, complete with the best deserts you could imagine (still dreaming of their chocolate mousse!), followed up an improve game called props.  Thing group charades with random props, and much laughter.  In this game, the audience is always the winner.

So there is is.  A lazy European Sunday.  Market, lunch, beach, dinner, games.  Family.  Doesn't get better than this.

Beaumont-Hamel and Shrapnel Hunting

On day 5 of our trip we started our morning in Vimy Ridge (which I talked about here).  After Vimy and a lovely baguette lunch, we went to the second of two Canadian National Historic Sites located out side of our country - Beaumont-Hamel.

The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial is a memorial site located in the North of France, around 1 hour away from Vimy Ridge.  It is dedicated to the Dominion of Newfoundland forces members killed during World War I.  It is both a preserved battlefield (complete with trenches and rollings fields showing the blasts of the past), a memorials (see the Caribou monument), and a cemetery (Y Ravine Cemetery).  This is the location that the Newfoundland Regiment made an unsuccessful attack in 1916 - the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  This was the Newfoundland Regiments first major engagement (back before they were part of Canada), and it lasted all of 20 minutes before the regiment was wiped out.  The land was purchased by Newfoundland in 1921 to create this memorial, and some of the Somme battlefield has been conserved in this 74 acre park.  There are 814 names honoured here on the memorial, plus the cemetery located as well.

While standing in the battlefield, our guide, Steve, read us two war time poems, both of which really stuck with me.  Imagine looking out on to these fields, and hearing the following words:

Young Fellow My Lad, by Robert William Service

"Where are you going, Young Fellow My Lad,
On this glittering morn of May?"
"I'm going to join the Colours, Dad;
They're looking for men, they say."
"But you're only a boy, Young Fellow My Lad;
You aren't obliged to go."
"I'm seventeen and a quarter, Dad,
And ever so strong, you know."

"So you're off to France, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you're looking so fit and bright."
"I'm terribly sorry to leave you, Dad,
But I feel that I'm doing right."
"God bless you and keep you, Young Fellow My Lad,
You're all of my life, you know."
"Don't worry. I'll soon be back, dear Dad,
And I'm awfully proud to go."

"Why don't you write, Young Fellow My Lad?
I watch for the post each day;
And I miss you so, and I'm awfully sad,
And it's months since you went away.
And I've had the fire in the parlour lit,
And I'm keeping it burning bright
Till my boy comes home; and here I sit
Into the quiet night."

"What is the matter, Young Fellow My Lad?
No letter again to-day.
Why did the postman look so sad,
And sigh as he turned away?
I hear them tell that we've gained new ground,
But a terrible price we've paid:
God grant, my boy, that you're safe and sound;
But oh I'm afraid, afraid."

"They've told me the truth, Young Fellow My Lad:
You'll never come back again:
For you passed in the night, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you proved in the cruel test
Of the screaming shell and the battle hell
That my boy was one of the best.

"So you'll live, you'll live, Young Fellow My Lad,
In the gleam of the evening star,
In the wood-note wild and the laugh of the child,
In all sweet things that are.
And you'll never die, my wonderful boy,
While life is noble and true;
For all our beauty and hope and joy
We will owe to our lads like you."

*Other Poem was called "The Wire," found here

From here we went to the ADANAC Cemetery (Adanac = Canada backwards).  It was in this cemetery that we saw the grave of Victoria Cross winner James Richardson, of Chilliwack, BC.  He was a 20 year old Scottish Canadian, and Piper.  In 1916, during the First World War (Battle of Ancre Heights) his company came under intense fire.  Richardson got permission to play his company over the top, and walked up and down the wire playing his pipes, inspiring his company until the position was captured.  James was support to take back a wounded comrade and some prisoners, but realized he left his bagpipes.  He went back to get them, but was never seen again. These bagpipes were lost it, until discovered in 2002 in Scotland at a high school.  They have since been identified and returned to Canada, and can be found in the BC legislature as a reminder of his valour.  

Next door to the Cemetery is a field.  And in this field, if you look hard enough, you can find remnants of World War I.  For most of us, it was tiny little metal balls called shrapnel.  A few of us found some pieces of little more unique.  Sonia was our shrapnel hunter extraordinaire - with her eagle eyes!  But most of the crew managed to find at least 1 souvenir of the war to bring home with them.  It's crazy that it's been 100 years, and yet evidence of the Great War is easily obtained in a farm field in Northern France.  Proof that the effects are war are not easily erased.  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Last Post

In the small town of Ieper they understand Remembrance. 

Every night at 8:00 PM they have a ceremony they call the last post.  The “Last Post” is actually a bugle call.  A final homage to the fallen, as is tradition in the British Empire and it’s Allies.  In the town of Ieper, under the Menin Gate, which holds the names of 55,000+ missing and fallen soldiers, this ceremony is held every night.  It started in 1928, and has taken place over 30,000 consecutive days. 

In Canada we pay tribute on to the fallen once a year – November 11 – Remembrance Day.  But in Ieper they pay tribute every single day.  The public gathers.  The bugels play.  The soldiers march.  The music echoes throughout the gate.  And many hands take turns laying a wreath at the gate – to remember those who have given so much for those who were yet to come.

Sullivan Heights was honoured to be able to not only attend this ceremony, but to participate in it.  Two of our students, Shiraz and Justin, stood tall and proud as they marched under the gate to lay the wreath. 

This wasn’t my first time in Ieper.  I had attended this ceremony (twice) back in 2013.  And every night it is different.  But in some ways it is always the same.  Close your eyes.  Listen to the bugle.  Remember the fallen.  The more places I visit – the more battlefields I step on and memorial cemeteries I have seen, the more images that flash through my mind as I hear the notes ring out.  There is something about this ceremony – this tradition – that is more rich than words can adequately express.  I wish I could do it justice. 

So for now all I can leave you with is a couple of photos, and a short video of our students paying their respects.

Justin and Shiraz Lay the Wreath:

For a video of the last post (from a previous ceremony), see here: 

And for a video of the extended ceremony from the 30,000 anniversary of the Menin Gate Last post, see here:

Thursday, September 3, 2015

That time we paid homage at Vimy Ridge

On Saturday August 29 we had to prepare to say goodbye to Belgium.  Our whirlwind time in Ieper was over.  We were sad to leave our little home at the Novotel.  The rooms were huge and the breakfast was outstanding.  Ieper was full of charm and had so many yet-to-be-explored corners.  But the time had come to head south - to France!  However, our first day was one with many somber tones, as we continued our quest to better understand Canada's role in World War I.

Our guide Steve, from our previous Ypres-Salient tour, joined us as we head ~1 hour south to Vimy Ridge.  The Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9, 1917 - Easter Monday) was one of huge significance for Canadians.  In 1914 the Germans had taken he strategic position on the hill in Vimy.  As part of the "Race to the Sea" the French had tried (and failed) 3 times to claim it.  However, Canadians (4 divisions working together), with the use of the current trench system, as well as a strategic tunnel system, were able to claim it, and in turn, claim a victory (and source of pride) for Canada.  At this point it was the largest victory for the side of British Commonwealth.  However, it came at the cost of 3500 lives lost, and 7000 wounded.

When we arrived at Vimy Ridge we were able to start by touring the trenches and tunnels that were used during the war.  The conditions were bleak, and the thought of being a soldier during World War I did not appeal to our group.  Being 10 meters under the ground in a dark damp tunnel was less than ideal, but then again, the trenchfoot and danger of the trenches wasn't exactly appealing either.  You could split the difference and work in communications between the two -  but that lead to higher than average mortality.  Needless to stay, we finally had a better understand of the complexity of war (at least one very small part of it).  As in any scenario, walking in another persons shoes helps us to better understand them.  Well the same applies to learning about the war.  Walking the food prints of where it happened helps us to better understand what it was like, and how truly GREAT the sacrifices were to ensure our freedoms.

After our tour of the trenches and tunnels we were able to head up to the memorial itself.  As luck may have it, we arrived at a slow time, and had the memorial all to ourselves for a few moments.  Steve sat us back across from it and talked about the story of how this hill (hill 145) was so important, and how the battle went down.  The landscape is covered with craters of all sizes - from bombings and collapsed in caves alike.  Sitting among these craters to understand where they came from was eerie and humbling.  After we better understood the significance of what happened here, we  head towards the memorial itself.  This memorial isn't just here to honour those who fought or died at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, but to any Canadian soldier who was killed or presumed dead in France during World War I.  The missing are listed on the front of the monument.  Designed by Walter Seymour Allward, it took 11 years to build.  It won a contest (beat out the brooding soldier from Passchendale), and was constructed with special marble imported from Croatia.  It is one of two possible places to be a"National Historic Site of Canada" and yet reside outside off Canada.  The second is Beaumont-Hamel (which I will talk about another time).

We were lucky to have time to visit, contemplate, and pay respect to those who have fallen.

The true cost of war is just beginning to set in.  First Anne Frank.  Then Ypres.  The Menin Gate.  Vimy and the Somme.  Then on to World War II sites in Normandy.  And this is just a start.  Europe had so many remnants of war that we as Canadians from BC don't always understand.  We have experienced nothing like it in our province.  When we left Vimy Ridge this day we drove to lunch - past the most adorable little farm house.  With a front yard full of shells left from World War I.  We drove past a French cemetery (with white crosses as far as the eye can see) and a German cemetery (with black crosses).  It's been one hundred years - but the evidence is still everywhere.  I hope that if you are reading this, you too will consider a visit to this region.  It has been an unforgettable time for our crew (and we've only just begun).