We start early again, 5.30am rise, squeeze last bits into bags, walk to the Lucerne train station in the dark through early morning drizzling rain. Quietly. Not much to talk about this time of the day, certainly by me anyway.
Forgot to say yesterday, there was a real dusting of snow on the Alps around Mt Pilatus the previous night, all we can see on the top part of Pilatus is white now, shame it wasn’t there when we’re up there the other day.
Today Europe is wet, the forecast looks bleak for everywhere, so a good time to be travelling in the dry although the forecast looks the same for the next few days all the way to England.
Our train is on Gleis 6 ( Platform 6), we’re on early, bags stowed low. A good thing not having to lift them high to luggage racking. Amazingly the train is pretty full even though we do spread out a bit. Basel on the corner of Switzerland, Germany and France arrives in an hour, huge train station, 30+ platforms. A quick check and we find an earlier train going our way, same spec and we are advised we can take it. First class is spacious, seats are wider and it’s less busy. A bit more expensive but nice to relieve the pressure for a short time. Clearly it’s a French train. The language is all French, Bonjour, Merci, voila, parlais vous Anglais? You know the ropes. This train only gets up to 200kph, next one is a TGV so it should be 300+ kph from Strasbourg to Paris.
We’re in Strasbourg on time, different being in France to Switzerland and way different to Italy. Hardly any English spoken or on the message boards, it’s French or nothing. The SNCF (French national railway) have funky hats, the little French head tilt, they are just different, in a good way.
The Alsace region, of which Strasbourg is the capital has about 1.9m people, and has alternated between German and French control over the years, it was Hitlers excuse to poke France’s ribs by annexing it before WWII, that ended well for everyone didn’t it! Did Vlad Putin read the instruction manual Hitler wrote on Alsace Lorraine before he annexed the Crimea and attacked, sorry, moved to protect Russian citizens in the Ukraine?
We have allocated seats in 1st Class for the 1 & 3/4 hours to Paris, 500 km = 6 hours by car or the train averaging 250 kph, I’ll take the train thanks. It’s running at 310 – 320 kph, slightly faster than the old XPT to Dubbo. Wouldn’t it be good if we could find a way for high speed train travel to work in Australia?
The country changes from mountains to arable land, crops, rolling hills, ploughed paddocks , no stops until lunch in Paris before the train to Arras.
At Gare de Est there is the usual bums rush to get off the train, but 1st Class is a little more restrained. My job is to get us for Gare de EST to Gare du Nord train station. The job is easy with Google maps and not to mention the prominent signs, it’s a 10 minute walk although the Navigator with shopping in her back struggles with the pace. She settles when we get into the huge train station, we’ve been here before and it seems really busy in the station this time.
PROBLEM – we discover Liz’s train ticket is for 10:30am this morning, not the 14:28 that Genelle, Paul and are on. Genelle sends a message to Sonya but we don’t have time and have to fix the stuff up quickly. I mind the bags and Genelle Liz & Paul go to the ticket office to find a solution, if there is one. They tell her the ticket she has had expired, so only option is to try and buy a new one for the same train. The lineup is long and I’m not sure we’ll find a solution in time for the 2:28 train!!!!!!!
TIP – Double check your train tickets dates, times, seats etc and print hard copies as electronic 2nd ticket copies sit below the top copy. Make sure they match, then double check, again.
They manage to secure a €17 ticket with about 5 minutes to spare, otherwise Liz would not have got through the barcode machine and security to let us through to the platform for our train, lucky we did a check on seats and times when we got to Gare du Nord. Her original f….up ticket was on the same booking number so not sure what happened? If this hadn’t been noticed early by Genelle & Liz when we got of the train Paris it would have been a big problem as Liz would have been stopped at entrance to the platform.
Now, we’ve arrived in Arras, on time, those TGV trains sure do go fast, the Holiday Inn Express is 5 minutes walk from the train station, sort of a non descript average French town near the railway station, nothing flash from what we can see first up. Our Check In is good, nice staff, very helpful, rooms are OK and good pillows has impressed The Navigator. The front office give us a map and some good advice so we walk up town, a few minutes and we’re in the “old town” of Arras, French Flemmish architecture, the beautiful big squares with the cafes and restaurants, people smoking, drinking, laughing, ha ha ha – all so very French – Dr Bob I hear your voice all the time, it reminds of of you and how you sound when you speak, its all good mate, I like it. We find a bar/cafe and have a few drinks, wander some more, a standard western type meal for dinner, some funky bio beer that Paul doesn’t like much and we wander home for a well deserved sleep to get ready for tomorrow’s Somme battle tour with Sacred Grounds – Out in The Somme Day Tour which focus’s on the Australian war experience in WWI. By the way Arras is very pretty and has a nice vibe, as Dennis Denuto said in The Castle “Its all about he vibe…….” and I like the vibe of Arras.
Why do I want to do it you might ask:
The Coombes name is a relation on both sides for me. My mothers elder sister Connie married a Coombes, so I have 4 x 1st cousins on Mums side named Coombes. Those cousins father, Johnnie Coombes, was my fathers mother (my Grandmother on dads side) 1st Cousin. There were 5 Coombes cousins who went to WWI in the infantry in Flanders, and the Somme battlefields, 3 died, one was wounded 3-4 times and medically discharged and the other was wounded and had a difficult life. Four years age I visited 1 grave and 1 memorial in the unknown grave section at the Ypes Memorial at Menin gate in Belgium and left a poppy that my cousin in law Caroline had crocheted for the AWM. Tomorrow I have one poppy left to leave for the 3rd one who died in the Somme. He was Arthur james Coombes (aka Mick), born 1878, he was a batchelor, a farmer, his father died in 1905 so he lived at home with his mother. He was my Great Uncle – my grandmothers brother. He joined up in August 1915, and joined the 16th reinforcent to the 1st Division 1st Battalion at the front 20th May 1916 and was killed between 22-25th July 1916 in the Battle of Pozieres. His record says he was “buried in the vicinity of Pozieres”. His brother William (Spider Bill) also served but returned home, he had 4 other brothers and 3 sisters. He lost 1st cousin Stanley Coombes 4th Battalion at the Battle of Paschendale 12/10/1917 and Stanley’s brother Alfred 34th Battalion was killed at the Battle of Messines 7/6/1917. My Grandfather (Dads father) served in the 7th Lighthorse in Palestine and Gallipoli (after the war ) and Mums Uncle was in the 7th Light Horse as well but died in training camp from measles. There is a long tradition of service in the military in both sides of my family, with Dads brother serving in WWII and two first cousins seving in the regular army 1 in the engineers in Malaya and Vietnam and the other in the SAS in many or all of the modern spheres of war and my nephew in law who is/was an officer in the RAAF has served overseas in the middle east and on UN missions, so I believe in recognising and honouring service and sacrifice of our military service men and women. Hopefully I’ll find Mick’s memorial and leave something to show somebody remembered him.
So Merci (thankyou) for reading, and Bonsoir ( or whatever it is) from Arras in France tonight. Pauolo