Joined May 2017Living in: Molyullah, Australia
  • Day23

    Barcelona to the Somme - overview

    June 10 in Australia ⋅ 🌧 13 °C

    19 May – 7 June “Barcelona to the Somme”

    John has kept our daily diary of this amazing trip. This enabled me to get on with “washing the smalls” and resting up after our busy days. I would like to add some memories and observations on the very good times we shared.

    Our accommodation was first class. The El Palace Hotel in Barcelona was very centrally located and reported to be the ‘best hotel in Barcelona’. The breakfasts at this hotel would have to be the best I have ever had (and I have had a few!). This proved a great venue to meet up with our new ‘tour’ friends.

    Both the AmaCello and AmaLyra cruise boats were also fantastic. We were lucky enough to get a cabin with sliding doors and I found that after a busy day sightseeing there was nothing better than putting my feet up, a cuppa in hand, and watching the world of the river go past as we smoothly sailed along. At night this was the best sleeping tonic – both the fresh air and the movement. Sometimes you would see an otter or hear a cuckoo bird. The views were amazing of both landscapes and villages. In the morning you would wake to the birds twittering, swans and cygnets floating on the river, and the occasional rooster crowing when you sailed past a village. With the smell of freshly baked pastries or bacon wafting up from the kitchen in readiness for breakfast this was absolute bliss.

    Each day there were off boat tours at the various villages and some venues of great interest. This offered a different view of the countryside to that on the boat. Lovely views, hundreds of miles of crops, plus inland villages and gardens. John has written in details of our selected tours so I won’t repeat things other than to say that the local tour guides provided were fantastic. Not only would we never have visited many of the places we saw if we were on our own, we would not have learned so much of the history, the local stories and highlights had we not had such amazing guides. They were really well informed, patient, amusing, and invaluable in making our days so good.

    We needed very little cash as most meals were provided – either on board or at the various venues. We seemed to have three-course lunches and dinners on offer every day. We made friends with Paul and Trish from Sydney and shared many lovely meals (and laughs) with them. Paul was particularly partial to the ice-cream on offer. We had to join him, of course, and found they were so creamy and very addictive. We also found a passion for the French ‘baguette’ – French breads are really something.

    Loved the French lace curtains in many of the older houses – have never seen them here but would love some for home.

    We found each village and town to be very clean and well maintained. Oingt was pristine and I was really impressed that the wheely bins in this and neighbouring villages were a light brown/camel colour – to blend in with the colour of the stone buildings! We enjoyed a strong coffee in Oingt – or should I say “café au lait”. We had a lot of fun ordering in French at various places. One guide gave us the hint to ask for the bill early – l’addition – and we found this most helpful.

    The weather was kind – mainly around 20 degrees with the odd cooler and warmer days. Rain threatened on a couple of days but it rained when we were under cover (in a boat or coach) and cleared for us to visit the planned sites. We definitely enjoy late May early June for the weather and longer days. It is also before the season is in full swing so less tourists.

    It is hard to pick out favourite attractions as those on offer had been chosen very carefully to be interesting and have the ‘wow factor’. We enjoyed them all and were often not expecting such great experiences which seemed to double the ‘wow’. Despite the crowds at Monet’s garden it was one place I was glad I did not miss. I am still hoping to plant out our wetlands area with some colour and greenery to make it more attractive – not enough years left to produce the Monet look but we can do our best.

    The staff on the boats were so friendly and helpful, the food on board kept amazing us, and the transition from boat to coach for daily tours and for return to the airport went smoothly. Like our last APT cruise, I am left with the feeling that if I never get to take another holiday I am happy as I have had another of the best holidays ever.

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  • Day18

    Les Andelys & Richard the Lionheart

    June 5 in France ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Les Andelys is in the plural because there are two places - Petit (small) Andelys and Grand (large) Andelys. We were docked at Petit Andelys so we had a short walking tour of what is the old quarter. Like so many places, there are lovely old buildings.
    There is a small square with a monument to Jean-Pierre (Francoise) Blanchard. An inventor, he was born here. He was the first person to cross the English Channel in a balloon.
    We then boarded a bus for Grand Andelys which is a bit newer as well as bigger. The two were twin villages that gradually merged.
    The main industry here is glass manufacture - they make lenses for cars.
    We wandered around and,as we needed a pee pee break (as the French say), we found a cafe and had a coffee. Buying something allows you to use the loos.
    Back onto the coaches to go up the hill overlooking the town. There we found Chateau Gaillard, a castle built by King Richard I. It was begun in 1196 and finished in 1198, although some say it only took one year to build. It certainly has a commanding view of the town and the River Seine.
    Back on board in time for 12.15 lunch and we set sail at 1.15 for Paris. We are scheduled to dock in Paris at 3.30 am tomorrow and then it will all be over.
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  • Day17

    Rouen light show

    June 4 in France ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Rouen is the town where The Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc, was burned at the stake, 30th May, 1431, at the age of nineteen.
    At tonight's briefing, Anja, our cruise director gave us the heads up about a sound and light show in town each night at 11pm on the front of the cathedral. As I've said before, and I hope to say again, when the cruise director suggests something is worth seeing, it's worth going.
    From where we were docked, it was a short walk into town. The show lasted thirty minutes. All I can say is, if you find yourself in Rouen, don't miss this show.
    Back on board, a cuppa and in bed not long after midnight.
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  • Day17

    Still more cemeteries

    June 4 in France ⋅ 🌧 24 °C

    On to Longueval to visit a New Zealand cemetery. As we have some Kiwis in our group, another small ceremony - our guide recited 'In Flanders Fields'.
    A stop to hear about the men who tunnelled, sometimes 1000 metres, to get under enemy trenches and set explosives.
    Last stop was Thiepval, a British cemetery. There are 72,000 names on the walls here...

    The battle of the Somme lasted 141 days. Including Germans, there were well over one million casualties, including 57,000 on the first day, with over 19,000 killed. In total there were over 300,000 killed...
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  • Day17

    The town that won't forget Australia

    June 4 in France ⋅ 🌧 19 °C

    As we approached the town, there was a sign saying Robinvale - it is a suburb of Villers Bretonneux. Robinvale, Victoria and Villers Bertonneux are sister cities.
    Visited the museum located above the school in the Victoria School building. Many of the exhibits were donated by people in Australia. Australians help with donations towards ongoing upkeep. The museum, like the town, has very strong connections to Australia. We had a bit of a walk around and back on the coach.
    The town was just about obliterated during the fighting. Because of this, there are hardly any historic buildings now.
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  • Day17

    The Somme - sheer bloody madness!

    June 4 in France ⋅ 🌧 17 °C

    First stop, the Australian War Memorial at Villers Bretonneux. This is the location for the Anzac Day dawn service each year. APT had organised a wreath and four people who had relatives who had fought here, laid it at the cross of sacrifice in front of the memorial. Our two guides sang La Marseillaise and then we sang Advance Australia Fair. One guide then played a recording of the last post through our earpieces. A very moving touch. The weather was appropriately sombre.
    A close look at the tower of the memorial shows lots of bullet marks - seems the germans were peed off with us so shot at it during WWII.
    At the rear of the war memorial is the Sir John Monash Centre. Open for a year, it's a modern museum of the Somme campaigns. Through an app, it uses digital technology to show and tell the stories and battles.
    Like all military cemeteries, there are rows and rows of headstones. Occasionally there are two close together signifying they are buried together. There's no set order - the graves are totally random - those with names, those unknown - sailors, soldiers and airmen. There are 2,100+ buried here of whom 600 are unidentified. As you drive around there are small cemeteries with their rows of white headstones everywhere among the fields of crops. Besides this, there are many servicemen buried in church graveyards.
    Farmers are still finding bombs and shells in their paddocks. When the war finished, the government didn't want the farmers to return to their land because of the danger of unexploded bombs. The famers did return and, indeed, some were killed - some not that long ago.
    In 2016, while widening a road, workers found the bodies of three soldiers. Their remains have been moved to a small cemetery near where they were found.
    Next, into Villers Bretonneux town to eat our lunchpacks provided off the ship.
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  • Day16

    Normandy D-Day landing sites and graves

    June 3 in France ⋅ ☁️ 18 °C

    8am departure for a two hour coach ride to the D-Day landing sites. En route, our guide gave us some history of the build up and the day itself. The 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6th, is a few days away. The first thing that strikes you as you get closer is the obvious feeling the french have for their liberators. In every town and village most of the houses had flags out - mainly French, English and American. Most light poles had a picture of one of their heroes - some of them looked no more than seventeen.
    Les vrais heros ne meurant jamais - real heroes never die, is what they say.
    The thing we're having trouble coming to terms with are all the people dressed in WWII army gear and driving around in WWII army vehicles. It looks like half the people there are playing dress-up.
    There are preparations going on everywhere for Thursday - 75th anniversary of the landing.
    We drove to Sword Beach and along to Juno Beach. Our first stop was at Arromanches, at Gold beach.There is a little cinema there - 9 screens forming a complete circle, no seats, just rows of rails to hold on to, and the 'action' and the noise is all around you. The film showed German occupation, allied bombing, paratroopers on D-Day, troops landing, street to street fighting, relieved local people, children, troops with the children... It was very loud and very emotional. I suspect most people were OK till they showed little children and a kitten...
    A little further along we stopped at Longes sur Mer. Here the row of pill boxes, still containing canons, looks out across the English Channel. We had a picnic lunch at one of these. The French, quite understandably, don't like the name, 'English Channel'. They refer to it as La Manche - The Sleeve, because of its shape.
    Then on to Omaha Beach and a chance to walk along the sand.
    There is a huge cemetery at Omaha - 90,000+ graves. This is where the 75th anniversary commemorations will take place. I spoke to a pommy veteran of 1944, shook his hand and said 'thanks'.
    Bayeux is the biggest of the 18 commonwealth cemeteries in Normandy with 4,600+ graves.
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  • Day15

    Benedictine - my new favourite drink.

    June 2 in France ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    Tonight was yet another APT Signature experience - meaning an APT exclusive. A visit to Le Palais Benedictine, a benedictine monastery, for us alone this evening. About an hour to wander around the amazing museum and sample Benedictine liqueur - I could consider giving up guinness - perhaps.
    Google Palace Benedictine to see more.
    Dinner in the massive Abbott hall followed - incredible.
    To top off a wonderful night, we each received a small bottle of Benedictine as a memento.
    Back to the ship at 11. A really early start tomorrow to go to Normandy.
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