Two World Wars & Lots of Bubbly

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France route - 755 Km in 12 days
France route – 755 Km in 12 days

I fear there are going to be fewer posts this year as a blog of any type is a beast that must be fed regularly and let’s face it, how many pictures of cake, castles, churches & cathedrals can anyone take. So with this in mind please join Ralph (the trans-gender GPS), Norman (the self-trimming motorhome), Deb (the automatic missed turn & speeding alarm) & myself (the wind generator) for our trek through central Europe.

WW1 memorial Villers Bretonneaux
WW1 memorial Villers Bretonneaux

Timing of our journey placed us in the Northern French WW1 battlefields a few days ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. As many of the surrounding villages were liberated by ANZAC forces there were Australian flags proudly displayed in most main streets.

WW1 memorial Villers Bretonneaux
WW1 memorial Villers Bretonneaux

Scattered throughout the fields are the many memorials dedicated to the various Australian & New Zealand regiments that fought here. On the eve of ANZAC day we arrived at Villers Bretonneux to find they were preparing for a televised service and were expecting 6,000 people to attend.

WW1 memorial Villers Bretonneaux
WW1 memorial Villers Bretonneaux

We paid our respects and moved on to Le Quesnoy for the 25th April, as this was primarily a NZ memorial with only a few hundred in attendance.

WW1 memorial
WW1 memorial

Rolling forward to the next war and in the Vosges mountains of eastern France we stumbled upon Natzweiler-Struthof. This is a little known site that was initially set up as a forced labour camp when the Nazis discovered pink granite nearby. While the original prisoners consisted of resistance fighters & undesirables, the camp eventually started taking in Jews and so a gas chamber was installed and the transition to death camp was complete.

Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp
Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp

The camp was empty when the allies reached it in the closing stages of the war but they quickly were able to ascertain what had been going on there. However, when both the allies and the Russians liberated the much larger occupied camps in the east and the atrocities there came to light, Natzweiler-Struthof was soon forgotten.

Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp
Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp

Lightening the mood we stopped in Essoyes for lunch and learned that this is where Renoir spent his last 30 or so summers. It was easy to see why as the entire area looked as if it had been lifted from one of his paintings. Not far from his workshop you can visit his grave where this bronze bust makes it easy to find.

Renoir - Essoyes
Renoir – Essoyes

Leaving behind the battlefields of the Somme & Verdun valleys we arrived at the much-anticipated region of ‘Champagne’. Vineyards as far as the eye could see for several days (and very pleasant nights) before we reached the region’s self-proclaimed capital of ‘Epernay’.

Moët & Chandon
Moët & Chandon

Arriving mid morning we strolled down the ‘Avenue de Champagne’ admiring all the magnificent chateaux that housed the caves (cellar doors) for all the different brands.

Moët & Chandon - Epernay
Moët & Chandon – Epernay

We obviously recognised marques like Moet & Chandon, Bollinger & Veuve Clicquot however our first tasting was at the domestic Collard-Picard as it had a very nice garden with a great setting.

Moët & Chandon - Epernay
Moët & Chandon – Epernay
Champagne House
Champagne House

At lunch someone told us about another tasting available at Mercier which was actually a tour that included a tasting. Although not well known outside of France because they export very little, Mercier is one of the largest producers. The lobby is dominated by a huge wooden keg that was transported to Paris in 1889. It held the equivalent of over 200,000 bottles of champagne!. Mercier was the “Henry Ford” of champagne in that he was the first to innovate mass production and make champagne affordable to the masses.

Then you descend 30m underground and board a train through the 18km of tunnels underneath as you visit each stage of production and peruse their 5 years worth of stock!

Epernay
Mercier

Colmar is the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who is best known for designing the Statue of Liberty. This 30m replica was commissioned on the 100th anniversary of his death and sits in the middle of a busy roundabout at the city’s entrance.

Statue of Liberty - Colmar
Statue of Liberty – Colmar
Litle Venice - Colmar
Colmar’s other main attraction is Little Venice

Riquewihr is a delightful little village up in the vineyards of Alsace. It’s steep cobblestoned main street is lined with shops whose produce naturally go well with wine. At each end is a business which looks like a small wine bar with only a few tables but they are actually tasting caves as we found out when we took shelter in one from the rain.

Riquewihr
Riquewihr

Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region which prior to WW1 belonged to Germany. When the Nazis repossessed it they outlawed the speaking of French all together. It is no wonder then that most of the villages, street names, food & architecture in the region have a distinct German influence.

Strasbourg Minster
Strasbourg Minster

The cathedral’s south transept houses an 18-metre astronomical clock from the 1800s but it’s forerunner dated back to the 1500s

Astronomical Clock
Astronomical Clock

We had a great day in Strasbourg but Deb & I really enjoy the little villages, rural countryside and amazing landscapes so we are expecting great things as we next cross into Germany and travel east through the Black Forest and the Bavarian Alps.

Barrage Vauban - Strasbourg
Barrage Vauban – Strasbourg
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16 Replies to “Two World Wars & Lots of Bubbly”

  1. Thanks for all the comments to blog post 1, next post has just been done. Still having a blast, currently in wet Venice. Hopefully the weather will clear for us tomorrow.

  2. Great Blog Mike and Deb, and just wonderful pictures. Keep it up we love travelling with you guys….either in Oz or Europe. Travel safe xox

  3. As always it’s fantastic to hear and see what you are enjoying on your wonderful travels. Glad everything is going well. XXX

  4. Great words and pics. Sonja and I really enjoy following your travels. It’s almost as good as being there with you. Keep it up. Cheers

  5. I love the log of history and your wonderful descriptions. Also nice to know someone understands ANZAC includes New Zealand as many commentators ignore the fact that NZ suffered on a population basis worse than most countries. Keep up the great work and enjoy

  6. To say we live vicariously through your travels and adventures is an understatement …
    Like Andy said .. Its like we were there with you , but not bugging you , if you understand my sentiment.
    Michelle is also right .. We love these blogs.. and knowing how wonderful a time you are having makes me delight .. Keep it up~!!! Love you guys!

  7. Been looking forward to the return of the Cohen travels. I love travelling with you both. Looks like this trip is as fantastic as the last. xx

  8. Almost as though we are in the van with you. Thanks for the excellent words and pics – keep up the good work ( saves us the expense of actually travelling:-) ).

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