Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Vimy Ridge

The desk clerk at the hotel in Lille (L'Hermitage Gantois Autograph) was very helpful. I had almost engaged a driver to take us to Vimy, but when the clerk heard about it he cautioned us, and offered a better alternative driver.
So, we set out to see Vimy Ridge, the place where Canada became a country--so it is said. And the place where my husband's father had fought and been injured. That injury took him to a hospital in England where he met and married my husband's mother.
What can I tell you about Vimy Ridge beyond that? Not a lot, because there's too much to tell. Instead, I'll try to give you some links and photos that will explain why, a hundred years after the battle, it is so important.
In this photo, you see my husband in his wheelchair (a loaner from our travel agent) with our son behind him, and me in the red coat. In the background you can see the enormous pylons of the memorial. I cannot express how emotional this visit was especially for my husband and son.
Notice my husband's white cane. He isn't totally blind, but his vision is such that he really saw only ghostly images of this magnificent structure. Up close, you could see sculpted figures representing Canada mourning her losses, etc. Too much to tell in a blog. I'll see if I can find a link for you.

Meanwhile, here's a link that tells why France gave this portion of their land to Canada in thanks for the victory over the German enemy in World War I.
And another link to the website of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, in Vancouver, BC. It's what that regiment is now, not what it was in April 1917.

Prague to Lille

To get to Lille from Prague, we had to fly to Lyons and change planes.  I'm still not sure why Lille was the city the travel agent chose for us when we told her we wanted to go to Vimy Ridge. My husband's father had fought there with the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders, a Canadian regiment, in April, 1917. It was important for him to see this place which has such a prominent place in Canadian history.
Our son and daughter had visited Vimy several years ago, but they were driven there by some Belgian friends, their hosts in Bruges. Someone else had suggested that we stay in Belgium and take a taxi to Vimy. But we went to Lille, for better or for worse.
Lille is a big city--bigger than I imagined. Population 2 million. So why we had to stay in such an expensive hotel, I do not know. Of course, my husband would require easy access to the shower, etc., but in a city of two million, I think there could be quite a selection of hotels with such facilities.
At first, because all the hotels were prepaid, I didn't know which hotels cost what. (None of my business, I guess.) But I got quite a shock when I saw
the notice on the door of our room. Seven hundred and ninety-nine euros per night??? I immediately emailed my travel agent. What was going on  here? She got back to me and said that was the maximum they were allowed to charge, and she assured us we had not paid that. Of course, she didn't know off hand what we had paid. Besides, it was none of my business. No she didn't say that, but neither did she ever tell me what I had paid.
The other shock in the message on the door was that breakfast, not included in the room price as in most European hotels, costs us 23 euros per person. Let's see. One euro is $1.42 Canadian. So, 23 euros multiplied by 1.42 is $32.66 per person per breakfast. There were three of us and no place nearby to go for another breakfast, so it cost us almost a hundred dollars a day, three days, three hundred dollars for one of those buffet breakfasts. You know, mushy scrambled eggs or maybe greasy fried eggs, greasy sausages, greasy bacon, maybe a waffle or slice of toast.  Some places will make you an omelet, but not this one.
The room was quite ordinary. They let you sit in the lobby but pestered you to buy a drink while you were there. Order a beer and you'll find it comes with four shortbread cookies. Really? Yes, and the drink and cookies costs only twenty-two euros. Just over thirty dollars. My son suspects that if you left the cookies (I never did) it might cost less. Or it might not.
One really good thing at this hotel was the marvelous swimming pool. Not big, just nice and not cold. Also a steam room. Best of all, my husband was able to a wonderful massage for fifty euros. Half an hour.
We stayed away from the hotel restaurant, which advertised a dinner special for "only" sixty-nine euros.
Instead we took a taxi and set out to find a restaurant, or cafĂ© or pub, such as I found online. They all closed at 2pm, and it was almost 1pm when I started to look. I found one that stayed open until 3pm, so we rushed there. The driver let us out, we went in. "Sorry, we're closing." It was 1:30.  It took a while and another taxi ride to find a place that would stay open long enough to serve us a burger and a beer.
The evening meals were another adventure. That was Lille. Not a place I'd care to visit again, but of course, we were there to see Vimy Ridge.