100 years

It was a sunny fall morning in October 2010 when I arrived at the Charles DeGaulle airport. I had slept intermittently on my flight from Edmonton. We had a single stop in Toronto so I figured I could snuggle in an sleep the rest of the way to Paris. Seven hours seemed like a proper night sleep then I would be refreshed when my parents arrived to meet my family. Canada covers a very large land mass. I woke up 5 hours later only to be disappointed that we were only in Newfoundland. Still in Canada.

The sun was still in morning reverie while I waited with my family for my dad to zoom by in the caravan. My parents and my grandmother had been travelling in Europe to celebrate my dad’s retirement. We decided to join them for a week. This was my second trip to the continent but my children’s first trip.

We boarded the caravan and I snuggled into my seat around the table in the back. Mom caught us up on all the things they had seen and now they were trying to navigate out of Paris and head north to Belgium where we would spend our first night and get reacquainted with the culture. The vibration of the vehicle quickly hypnotized me and lulled me into a hard sleep for about an hour. I tried to stay away because jet lag is easier to overcome by going to bed when the rest of the time zone does.

I woke up and watched the French countryside zip past me. I heard the hubs say, “Oh hey, Vimy Ridge is over there.” My mom and I looked at each other when we realized dad wasn’t stopping. Mom and I spoke at the same time, “We need to go.” She called my dad to stop and he had to navigate a U-turn on a tiny French road.

We pulled into the parking lot and all funnelled out. I took in my surroundings. To my left was the Candian cemetery. Over 10,000 people were injured or killed in the battle of Vimy Ridge. 3598 soldiers died at Vimy but only 828 Canadians were buried there. To my right was hilly ground fenced off and a flock of sheep were grazing on it. Moving closer we saw a sign on the fence, ‘Danger! Unexploded shells are still in this area.’

Canadian Cemetary #2

You could see how the shells and explosions had ripped apart the earth, leaving everything hilly and uneven. I felt for the sheep being used in this manner. We kept walking along the path.

Vimy Battle field

In a break in the trees, we could see the monument in the distance standing on the ridge. A Canadian flag waving in honour of the country that came to France to fight against the Kaiser, protect the French and fight for King and Country. Vimy Ridge

The path was red, it immediately reminded me of Prince Edward Island, and was lined with maple trees. It felt respectful of boys buried beneath the surface.

Maple

We walked along the beautiful path. The quiet countryside was noticeable. There weren’t sounds of traffic or people, I didn’t hear planes overhead, I only could pick out the sounds of birds in the trees. I tied to envision the sounds of gunfire and artillery rounds, men screaming and people calling to each other, but all I could hear was the sound of birds.

As we approached the monument, I expected to see the 11,000 names engraved on the walls but I did not expect to be so moved by the sculptures that lined the stairs. These felt like angles weeping at what man had done.

Vimy

I stood at the top of the stairs and took in the monoliths.

sdc10298

I didn’t know the artist until I came home to research, Walter Allward (1875-1955). I was afraid I would forget the feeling I had standing there. I did not. I can conger it up and immediately I am transported to that cool morning in the French countryside. I stood at the top of the steps and looked out over the ridge and the morning mist covered the valley. I turned to look the other direction and caught glimpses of trenches that snaked their way across the hill.

As I walked back to the caravan, I thought about the men in my family who fought in Europe, trained in Canada and guarded prisoners in Alberta. My family was touched by both wars. I thought about how the trauma of those times had a trickle-down effect on their families after the wars had long since ended.

Vimy remains the single most significant place I have witnessed. I hope all Canadians get a chance to discover it now that 100 years have passed. For more information please visit and support the Vimy Ridge Foundation.

 

 

 

The Edmonton Tourist Goes to France!

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” – John Steinbeck

There are no truer words spoken. I am finally over jetlag, and let me say, the older you get the harder it seems to recover from. Now that my mind isn’t foggy, I can give the proper amount of reflection to my European trip. People ask me daily “How was your trip?” In one word, astounding might fit, or maybe I need to make up a word. How about Fantastical? My trip was everything I hoped it would be, it was things I didn’t want it to be, and in many ways it was more then I could have ever expected.

For the next little while, I plan to write once a week about my amazing experiences and share some photos with you in the process. I was inspired by this blog, my new friend Sunshine often posts pictures of her travels in England.

Our first day arriving at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris felt surreal. Foggy from lack of sleep, gray and rainy day, signs I recognized except the English above the french was missing. Mom was waiting at the gate for us. She swept us up away to the traffic lanes outside, where Dad pulled up to the curb an a Caravan to escort us to destinations unknown. The plan was to head to Calais, France and spend the night. We all wanted to get to Bruges, Belgium. So Calais would be the first stop. What we didn’t expect, was the gems would would find off the beaten path. Phoebe, our trusty GPS, lead us on an expedition towards a campsite. But first we wanted to stop and pay our respects to my Grandma’s Cousin Fred. On the way, the driver spotted a sign that said Vimy Ridge. Being Canadian, we couldn’t just drive by such an importance piece to our Nation’s History, so we stopped. Remember this is our first day in Europe, and still Vimy ridge remained a one of my greatest memories of the trip.

We didn’t see the monolith at first, we were looking at the battle fields that were heavily damaged by shells that created huge craters. It was an overcast day, you could visualize the battle conditions. It was a somber site.

We walked up to the giant monolith and the path took us through a maple grove, I was speechless.

Our children were busy asking everyone questions, trying to understand what they were seeing. I am so thankful I was able to share this experience with the Offspring. It was amazing for me to see the pristine landscape, and to understand the battle took place almost 100 years ago. I no longer have family around who can share their first-hand experiences, but we do have the stories of what it was like. I can picture it vividly now as it must have been for the boys in battle who were not much older than Genetic Offspring, or the same age as my nephew.

As we approached the Monolith, quiet hush fell on our family. This massive structure with gorgeous carvings, was not only beautiful to look at, but humbling as well.

It felt strangely disrespectful to walk on the monument itself. But stairs guide you to read inscriptions, find names of soldiers who might be family and to see the views of the French country side below. The sculptures were beautiful and moving, I felt I needed to do a bit of research about the artist when I came home. The Canadian War Museum has custody of seventeen of the plaster figures created by Canadian sculptor Walter Allward (1875-1955) between 1925 and 1930 for the Vimy Memorial in France. They are now the only legacy of Canada’s most important memorial commission in which the artist’s own hand is clearly present. The stone memorial and figures in France are the work of professional stonecarvers working from his designs.

Allward had quite the vision.

We had wandered through the cimetière. This really affected Genetic Offspring. His friends and male cousins were similar in age to the boys buried beneath the stones. Far to many boys were “known only unto God”.

Surrounding the cimetière were the battle fields. There were signs posted saying there was still live munitions left in the ground. The areas were outlined by electric fences, only sheep were allowed to cross.

The picture does not give the scope nor depth to these craters. In fact just merely writing about this place cannot possibly do it justice. This was one of those experiences where actually being there provides meaning to the monumental sacrifice Mothers made for their country.

I was so very proud of our Canadian Government for the work and effort put into this place to preserve it for generations to come. I am equally thankful to the French Government for donating the land this place sits on. I cannot express how proud I was to be a Canadian that day.

Let’s Talk Turkey!

This past weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving. This was the first Thanksgiving in a very long time that I did not celebrate. Historically that weekend is filled will family, friends food, laughter and the Rotor Rooter Man. Not once did we ever invite the Rotor Rooter Man over for the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe we should have, then we would have been given a deal on fishing out turkey necks from the garburator. Hind sight is 20/20.

I did not celebrate Thanksgiving in the traditional sense because I was busy flying home from Paris, France. No one thought to fill my fridge with Turkey, stuffing, potatoes or rutabaga while I was gone, not that I am bitter about that or anything. Okay, maybe I am little bitter. But being a non-traditional kind of gal, I did actually give thanks for several things in my life. So my friends, it is time for another Edmonton Tourist top 11 list!

The Edmonton Tourist’s Top 11 Things She is Thankful For:

  1. I am very thankful I went to Vimy Ridge! Vimy Ridge is located in France and is a significant battle in Canada’s History. You can read more about it here. It was a powerful and moving experience for me and my family. Walking through the cemetery and looking at the ages of the boys, who were not much older then my children or my nephews, made me pause and be thankful for what I have. The visual of the munition craters in the surrounding battle fields and the maple grove you walk through was such a moving experience. It is one I will never forget. It is a much different experience being there then reading about it in history books.
  2. I am very thankful for Facebook. I know you think I am cracked in the head. Facebook has given me the opportunity to get to know Americans on a friend basis. I am proud to say I am a world traveler. With that experience comes a opportunity to defend your identity. Everywhere in the world where I have been, an American had been before me. Likely it was the same Texan I met on a cruise to Alaska. He was rude and self centered. So I naturally swept all American’s with the same paint brush. Here is my formal public apology to the Citizens of America. I am so sorry I stereotyped you in that way. One person who is not globally aware does not mean the entire country is that way. I have met some spectacular people who live south of the border and proudly call you my friend. I am honored that you live next door. I am thrilled it is you who is my neighbor and not someone else. So Please forgive me for stereotyping you in a way that was unbecoming to you and made me less of a Canadian.
  3. I am very thankful for my family. I know it is cliche and everyone says it. But after spending a week in a caravan with my family, I appreciate them more then I did before I left on my vacation. All our strengths came together and complemented each other. Other days it came together and clashed like the titans. But in the end, it was more fun then should be legal. We laughed together,teased each other, fought like crazy and cried. It was worth every second and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
  4. I am very thankful for French Dairy Products. My husband said it best, “Canadian Customs won’t let you bring dairy into the country because everyone would know French Dairy is better and that would kill our industry.” It was so amazing I will mourn it for a lifetime.
  5. I am very thankful for my 5 senses. I know this seems odd but after my vacation to Europe it is so very true! I saw buildings that dated before 1322! I could hear the Church bells ring in every little village along the way. The sound was angelic! The smell of the lush, green forest of Germany reminded me of home. The taste of the foods and beverages from shops in the villages and carts in the city brought a thrill to my taste buds every time they tried something new! The touch of my skin was so soft in the humid climate of Europe compared to the dry prairie of home. My skin misses you already Europe!
  6. I am very thankful for Maple Trees! Please don’t tell my Grandpa if you see him before I do. The Maple Leaf is such a strong Canadian Symbol, yet I saw more Maple Trees in Europe then I ever have in Canada. It made me proud and homesick all at the same time. My children collected maple leaves and pressed them in their books. I love Maple Trees!
  7. I am thankful for Canada’s low population! We were traveling on the Paris Metro when an abandon package was found. The train needed to be evacuated. That means a GAZILLION people tried to squeeze through the door. 6 million people ride the Metro everyday. There are only One Million people in the Greater Edmonton Area. When we arrived in Canada, it seemed like the country was deserted!  Low population density is a beautiful thing.
  8. I am thankful for Art. We spent some time in the Louve of Paris. I stood before paintings that I had only ever seen in books. It is a much different experience to see a Leonardo Da Vinci painting in person then to see it in a book. I could imagine him standing where I was looking at his own work and deciding what needed to come next. The depth and emotion in his work far surpasses any of that of his contemporaries. It was a spiritual experience for me. Later that same day, on the steps of the Seine, I met another artist who made a living from his work. I was moved buy his choice of colour and vision. I bought a piece of his work and love it as much as I loved looking at a Da Vinci.
  9. I am thankful for language. I know, you think it’s another odd choice. I speak one language fluently. Obviously it is English. Here is Canada we are considered a bilingual country. All our food products have both English and French labels and ingredients. Our version of Cereal Box French helped tremendously in grocery stores and markets. German Language was fairly easy to read and figure out because it is so closely related to English. But mostly I am thankful for the abilities of others who took the time and effort to learn English. This enhanced my trip because I was able to meet and learn about their life and thoughts about places. This was the true highlight for me. From talking to Adolf Herr the clock maker to Arnuad the Disney Cast Member and everyone else in between. I loved meeting new people.
  10. I am thankful for water. For it’s million and one uses to its life giving nature. I was thankful for clean clear water on this trip. But more thankful for water when I came home. Canada, you produce some of the best water in the world, thank you.
  11. I am thankful for my bed! As fantastic as my days were in Europe, my nights filled me with dread. I slept in a bed that was too short for me, the mattress was too thin, and the blankets were not warm. An uncomfortable night can seem longer then a busy action packed day. After forever and a day on the airplane, sliding into my thick cozy bed was pure ecstasy.

I am a very luck girl to have so many things to be thankful for. But mostly I am thankful to be home. This is something I need to keep remembering. The importance of home.