27 Mar: In my previous entry, I mentioned that yesterday and today would be about challenging issues in WWI. I was off a bit there. Today was more about cycling from Arras to Albert, with a little bit of WWI stuff at the very end.
After writing for this website for a while, I cycled to a couple of craters that were created by tunneling under the German lines. Like almost all of the other war memorials or sights here, they’re in the middle of a field. These craters haven’t been as well taken care of as other sights, so now, they look like small areas of undergrowth and small trees.
I didn’t spend much time looking at the craters, but since I was out of the city, I did take the opportunity to add a new gadget to my bike, a set of portable solar panels that I can put on top of my panniers. Those of you who know about my most recent visit to A&E/Emergency Room, know that the visit was caused when I was adjusting those panels, while standing on a stool in my kitchen and reaching toward a window. I’m happy to say that adjusting the solar panels this time didn’t involve any accidents or stiches.
I was pretty happy with how well the solar panels fit on my bike, even happier when they faced clear sunlight all day, and pardon me for saying, I was even happier when I cycled by another French bakery.
Cycling to Albert was one of the good cycling days that makes up for the bad ones. The sun was out; I had a short cycle ride (25 miles) to some intriguing stops, and the wind was literally at my back. My first stop was to the Newfoundland memorial. The place was just closing when I showed up, so I didn’t spend any time learning about the site. I just walked around the park. The same grass-covered crater-field, mentioned in the previous day, was all around this park. One difference is the trenches here are much more realistic. The trenches at Vimy Ridge have concrete barriers in the trenches to keep them stable. The concrete is formed in the shape of sandbags. I can see why concrete barriers were put in, but it does take away from the dirty, gritty feel of the trenches.
Some more good luck came my way when I stepped into the visitor’s centre, which is staffed by Canadian students. Their manager is part of the their Civil Service, and she was incredibly helpful with giving me a list of the best sights to see within cycle range, and she called a couple of nearby campsites to see if they were open. Many don’t open until April. She had to call a couple of places, but eventually, one of them could take me. After she gave me a maps of sites to see and the location of the campground, I told her how much I appreciated her help, especially when I heard her talking in French to the campsite owners. Her 10 minutes of phone calls would have taken me about30 minutes. She also gave me a handwritten note I could give to the campsite owner, to clarity that I needed to stay 2 nights, only had a 1 man tent and some other bits in French.
The campsite is in a very small cozy town, with the same kind of church nearby.
As I rolled in and talked to the owner, I gave him the note from the Canadian manager, which was helpful because he spoke no English. I’ve learned a little bit of French from the phrasebook I bought on the ferry, by writing some of the main words on paper and putting the paper in the map-holder of my handlebar bag. That allows me to learn French when things get a little dull. Anyway, I read from the notes in my map-holder that I couldn’t speak French. He nodded, smiled, and kept speaking it, nice guy.
As the owner and I were walking to the office, another cycle-camper showed up. We camped next to each other and talked before and after supper. His name is Christian, and he just finished his university studies in Germany. He’s cycling to see a friend in Portugal, I think. It didn’t take long for me to like the guy because he has bike almost as unusual as mine. He has a reclining touring bike, very cool
We laughed a lot, compared bike gear, and talked about some stuff in the news, like the problem with bailing out banks (on both sides of the pond) and the war in Afghanistan. Overall, I found his analysis very well thought out and carefully presented, since these can be sensitive topics. Soon after that, I crawled into my sleeping bag, read a little about the history of this area, and turned out the light.