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.

 

 

 

How’s it going eh? C eh N eh D eh Deh!

Happy Canada Day! You may not celebrate it in your home country – you should – but it’s okay that you don’t because Canadian’s are understanding like that.

This little nugget was a leaf I found at Vimy ridge in France. There is no other place on Earth that makes me feel more Canadian then there – weird because it is FRANCE, not Canada – but travel will do that to you.

Today is about BBQ’s, family, friends and fireworks. Typically this happens in the sunshine but it is pouring here in Edmonton. I have hope by 4 PM – the sun will be out and the festivities will begin! If not – it will be party inside and that’s cool too.

Part of my role as Tourist is actual travel to other destinations. My Tourist role isn’t all about finding self-awareness. It is also about taking risks and doing new things. Traveling is a part of that. Yet every where I go I come home thankful I was born and raised in Canada. I am trying to instill that feeling into my children. ChatterBox has joined the party. She shows off her love of all things Canadian through her new Photography blog, AwkwardBox Photos. I’m her mom so I am OBVIOUSLY super proud of her work. She is an artist and sees things through a unique eye. Go take a look and subscribe. She is amazing.

Things That are Awesome About being Canadian

  1. Northern Lights are a regular view from my deck at night.
  2. Killer spiders and snakes can’t take the cold so they live in Australia instead.
  3. There is always a Hockey Game on SOMEWHERE.
  4. Some of the world’s best water comes straight from my tap. Clean, fresh, clear and abundant.
  5. Living in an Urban area – the Capital of Alberta, and I can STILL watch wildlife from my deck. I watched a Bald Eagle soar overhead last week and a Red Tail Hawk stopped by for a visit on the deck yesterday.
  6. I can have a White Christmas AND 11:00 PM Sunsets in June
  7. I have a rights and freedoms act that protects everyone, even new immigrants. Respect it, don’t abuse it.
  8. My National Parks are protected from corporate abuse – lets fight to keep it that way.
  9. I live on the second largest landmass in the world. Our population is about 34 million, yet we still are able to stand strong and compete in world competitions and can EXPECT gold medals.
  10. I am 5th generation Canadian and people still ask me what I am and where my people came from.
  11. When I travel, particularly to Europe, people gush and give me the royal treatment because of what the farm boys did 60 years ago. They still remember.

So today is honourary (honor with a U – the Canadian way) Canadian Day. Put on some red and sing with me.

The Edmonton Tourist Goes to Belgium!

The last time we spoke of my trip to Europe, we went to Vimy Ridge.  We all slept soundly laid awake for hours in Calais that night. Several farm fields over from the camp ground was a party that sounded like a rockin’ good time! It lasted all night and finally broke up around 6:00 AM, just in time for our Muppet filled caravan to greet the new day and head to Bruges, Belgium. Over breakfast my parents commented on the noise that night – and by noise they didn’t mean Chatterbox puking on the carpet, the meant the Farmville party next door. Apparently it was quieter sleeping at the Barcelona airport where they had picked up my sister weeks before…but I digress…

On the agenda today was Dunkirk and Ypres on the way to Bruges. I had heard of Dunkirk, the great battle that slaughtered Allies by the thousands. Churchill sent a plea out to every one who had row boats, fishing boats or other water craft to sail across the English Chanel and rescue who they could. The kind of story where you expect John Wayne to show up in. Except, Hollywood didn’t have a hand in this tale.

We arrived at Dunkirk early morning. The sun was shining in the cool morning air. We walked along the road to the War Memorial and Cemetery. What got my attention was the large square stones lining the sidewalks. They represented the thousands of soldiers known only to God. It was difficult for the Offspring to walk around and look at the names and ages of the young boys buried beneath the head stones. It was clear, they were ready to see parts of Europe that did not involve any wars of the 20th Century. A difficult task considering the neighborhood we were in, as well as the rest of the Muppet Show Cast was very interested in seeing more war memorabilia. It was their Grandfather who saw the fear in Chatterboxes eyes, and said, “Sweetheart, I’m sick of war stuff too, this will be our last day looking at war things.” Thanks Dad for understanding.

We all piled into the Caravan and headed towards Ypres on a Sunday. Unlike here, most places in Europe close on a Sunday….swell. The Offspring would be so pleased…

As soon as we crossed the border into Belgium, we saw an old wooden windmill. You think anyone would stop so we could take a picture? No, sorry…maybe the next time we see one. For the record, that was THE ONLY old wooden windmill we would ever see.

The arrival into Ypres was fairly amazing. We were looking for yet another War Memorial. Only this time, we drove through it! And NO, I don’t mean my Dad crashed into it, that didn’t happen while we were in the caravan – PHEW! It was a tunnel like structure.

I remember hearing my Honey’s excited voice, “WE ARE DRIVING THROUGH IT!” Cool! So we had arrived to the Menin Gate. It was impressive! It records the soldiers of the British Empire without graves. We walked through it, looked at names and saw my son’s name. Although I knew that wasn’t really my son, it still weakened my knees. At that moment I knew I never wanted to actually see my son’s name on a wall. I was ill.

We moved our way up to the grassy park that was high above Yrpes. I needed air, I didn’t share my feelings with my family. My honey wanted to keep exploring but I needed to change my view. Like my Offspring, the time had come for me to end the War Memorial visits. It was starting to affect me.

As we climbed into the sunshine I saw the most beautiful view. It was enough to change my focus. I suggested to The Muppet Show Cast that we head down towards the street level and explore the town for a while. Besides, I needed chocolate. I was in the country where the best chocolate in the WORLD is made! (If my Boss happens to read this post, FYI it is not Guatemala!)

The street we explored was call Victor Hugo – cool name for a street. Being Sunday, everything on Victor Hugo was closed except the Church, the 16 Pubs, and the Chocolate Shop! Sweet joyous chocolate, open on a Sunday? I must have died and gone to heaven! I spotted the shop from down the street. I lost track of the Muppets around me. It was like my destiny flashed before my eyes and showed me my future. I was destined to walk into that shop.

The Owner walked in from the behind the magic curtain – likely wasn’t really magic but to me it was. She greeted us and I spoke English to her hoping she was fluent. SUCCESS! She explained to me the wondrous delights that were displayed under the glass. We talked about how she hand makes them herself in the back, no factory bulk chocolate here! IT really was heaven and I was there to experience it! I asked advice on purchasing a variety. I needed some for my team, some for honey’s office, some for my boss and an EXTRA LARGE FABULOUS BOX for me! Honey bought a small sample bag to eat instead of lunch. The total for 5 boxes of handmade, the most delicious chocolates ever, was 15 euros. 15!!!! As I sit writing this I wish I bought myself 6 more boxes. Oh well Hind sight is 20/20.

As we strolled back to the caravan with chocolate smeared all over our faces, I thought about how thankful I was that I had my family to share this experience with and how it felt not to have my son on the wall.

Next stop, Bruges.

 

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.