Things are really starting to move quickly now. We leave Belgium for France this morning. No matter how many times we do it, I’m constantly amazed how quickly you can move from country to country in Europe.
It does mean a few hours on the freeway, ho hum. Chris eventually tires if it and directs Tomtom off main roads into Amiens. Tomtom being a literal creature slows us to a crawl through tiny country roads. Picturesque cows are mine at last.
The roads are challenging, but utterly lovely. These are the fields of Flanders, their freedom bought with the blood of thousands of young men. Every so often, we pass memorial cemeteries, a stark reminder of the price of peace.
French farmland is unique. No rich black soil here, limestone rules. The ploughed fields are white with it. It’s the limestone that gives France it’s distinctive edge in wine and cheese making, imparting distinct characteristics to taste and nose.
Over the centuries the French have tamed this land and bent it to their will. The forests are gone, all that remain are tiny pockets of trees dotted here and there, left as wind breaks.
The land is cultivated as far as the eye can see, a patchwork of white, green and gold. It’s scenery worthy of the impressionist movement – it inspired countless painters.
We eventually arrive in Amiens and perform the parking dance. It leads to a few hairy moments down tiny streets, one of theses being the famous market gardens along the canal. After a few false starts we’re in luck, and settle in the gardens just across from the river Somme.
We walk into town to tour the stunning Amiens cathedral, so large that it could fit two Notre Dame in its interior. The cathedral is truly magnificent with the most extraordinary façade, decorated with hundreds of statues carved out of limestone. Inside it boasts an exquisite wooden choir, carved in the 16th century. It’s very beautiful.
Amiens was unbelievably lucky not to have lost its cathedral in the war. Depicted inside are the lengths they went to preserve it, building levies and sandbagging the facade and choir.
Even so, given that virtually the whole of Amiens was turned to rubble, the cathedral was lucky to never suffer a direct hit.
Amiens was the site of a significant battle that cost many lives. The sacrifices have not been forgotten. Photos of Australian soldiers are featured on memorial walls and our flag flys proudly. The French truly honour the sacrifices made on their behalf. We’ve seen tribute paid countless times, war graves are meticulously maintained by volunteers, children are taught the history, thanks are painted on rooftops and banners. Revealing you’re Australian virtually anywhere in France guarantees you a warm welcome. In the north, Australia is treated with reverence.
We lap Amiens then settle with drinks in the colourful square. There’s a dance/exercise class on best described as a combination of Zumba and Bollywood. Good beat, great fun to watch, mojito in hand.
Bouyed up by the atmosphere and lured by the night lights, we can’t resist dinner out. We dine riverside by the Somme, the cathedral our background. Our dining companions include a puppy teacup pompom called Marcia whose mother adores her and speedy ducks who, assisted by the river current, sail by as if they have inboard motors. Marcia keeps us amused by bristling and barking at every dog that goes past, regardless of size. She’s yet to work out she’s the size of a mouse.
Chris can’t go past the entrocote, I, ravioli stuffed with white truffles. A charcuterie and fromage platter to start. Wine aplenty. Yum!
By dinner’s end the town is buzzing, students on one side of the Somme nursing their beers, adults dining, the other. The eternal divide: not age, but disposal income.
The walk home reveals a pair of swans with eight cygnets in tow. Eight!!!
It’s fair to say we roll home. Travel. It expands the mind and the waistline.