The day started a little later for me as I had misread the booking for the Shuttle and set off to arrive at 0850 when I fact the train was at 0850 and I was supposed to be there before 0820 when that train closed. Curiously the automatic booking system didn't quibble and still gave me the crossing I could never make.
As usual there was a delay. I don't think we have been over using Eurotunnel for many years where the train has left on time or at least as scheduled. The last time was with Reggie and Claire when we went glamping on the Somme (80) coast last October. Delays both ways.
Anyway. Once I had done a few laps of the parking I slipped between the barriers. When I arrived with my "hanger" - a thing that car drivers can hang from their interior read-view mirrors - showing crossing K, the staff didn't say, "Go straight to the controls", instead I would have done a 360 loop of the parking had I not snuck through the barriers after 180!
UK passports was relaxed and the French were creating queues. Usually they are reading the paper or simply not there but today it was "only have two windows open" day for hundreds of cars.
|On the Shuttle|
Once aboard the train we were told there was a slight delay as there was a hold-up loading the coaches in a different section of the train. As usual bikes are the poor relations and we wait for all the cars to load and they shove us on the end. I have never had a valid reason for this. Once I was told it was because a bike might go on fire! I am sure that my £13500 Triumph is less likely to cause a problem than the number of £2500 crap heaps that wheezed past me as I queued.
Once in France we were off into the same warm sunny day as it was at home. As a consequence I only wore the Aldi base layer under my Joe Rocket mesh jacket. And I was fine even into the evening. I did take a v-neck jumper just in case.
Other things packed included a couple of pies, a bottle of water and some biscuits, plus by accident some sun screen! One each of the pies and biscuits came home too.
Once onto the A26 southwards I was in need of a drink. I pulled into the Aire de Rély and unusually for me, I topped the tank off with €9 of unleaded. Rather than hunt around later as I wouldn't manage there and back on one tank that wasn't full to start with.
A coffee and pain-chocolat later I set off again.
Slightly delayed as Pepé attracts people to come and have a look, I almost felt sorry for the glam couple in the Porsche being ignored, even when they blipped the throttle a few times. Very Loud. Feeling smug I set off.
All was going to plan, after the problem with the new TomTom 410 I was back to using the "old" Rider. It took me off the A26 and A21 to the parking. But sadly, by the time I got there it had closed as full. There did seem plenty of spaces for a motorcycle but the French jobsworth is more resolute that his English counterpart. Even the Gendarme was on my side but M. Jobsworth was adamant.
So I was directed to Lens, where I had already passed by, to Parking D situated at the 2000 car space parking lot by the RC Lens football ground. Pepé was quickly locked up and secured and I was on a bus within 10 minutes.
What organisation! Don't worry reality will set in later!
The journey to the Memorial Park went along where I had just ridden and then we were disembarked some 500 metres from the festivities. Along the way a lady kindly gave me a little maple leaf badge to wear.
From there is was a bit chaotic as no one really knew where to go. I picked up a programme and a water bottle from a table where volunteers were handing them out.
On the really plus side and with the weather hovering about 25C in full sun all day, the organisers had water stations, with water cooler bottles so that the bottle they gave away could be refilled.
When I last went, in 2014, it was mid week and there were maybe five coaches. I doubt the ceremony was seen by more than 200 people. Today over 20000! Groups from all over Canada. School groups with those irritating little table tennis bat signs the leaders hold up and then proceed to push past every one.
In the end I went to the right of the entrance and the path from the road to the monument was fenced off for the services to parade.
There was plenty of seating and I took the opportunity to sit on an end. I got chatting to a couple in the back row, and I immediately forgot their names (!). As I had packed light, I didn't bring a camera, just relying on my phone.
For that I did bring two battery chargers though to top it up. One didn't work though but the other did provide 50% charge for the S5.
|More people in this pic than in 2014 at all.|
We had a good view of the marching and for the speeches conducted on the other side of the monument, facing the west where the troops had attacked from, we had a screen to watch.
Unfortunately, the Samsung S5 has a good camera, but in full sun the screen is 99.99999999% impossible to see. Some of the photos dotted around this blog were taken using the system of locating the target by checking their position in relation to a hat in the crowd! It worked occasionally.
The massive crowd was entertained with music and dancing from people from the English and French speaking communities and from the First Nation. Gradually bringing us closer to when the dignitaries would arrive. Usually this is 3pm, but for some reason it had slipped back to 4pm and of course, they were late. As well as Canadian Veterans Affairs there was President Hollande from France, Justin Trudeau the Canadian PM, and of course Princes Charles, William and Harry representing her Maj the Queen.
The ceremony proper started off with a gun salute. I lost count of the shells fired. As we didn't see any part of Lievin and Lens on fire we assumed they were blanks... With my new found sighting system I managed to get some photos and accidentally a video! If you look it you will see the sighting hat!
|Gunners getting ready.|
One of the themes was the need for boots. Some letters read out from men that took part, and the main, were killed or wounded in the battle, they were concerned with few things other than having new boots, Their old boots hadn't been designed for spending all day in mud and water. it does make you wonder who supplied the army. I'm sure Canada has its fair share of wet and muddy conditions, not to mention -30 temperatures and snow.
All but M. Hollande conducted their speeches in both English and French. Some of the Canadians in my area were a little disgruntled by this as they thought it a little rude.
Mr Trudeau received the biggest cheer from the assembly so I guess that the disgruntlement wasn't to do with French per se. He slipped from English to French and vice-versa with ease and confidence.
There followed a fly past by some replica aircraft from WW1. Even though they weren't too fast, they were too much for the S5 and the new sighting system. I just kept clicking hoping to get one decent or at least one none too laughable shot come out. By accident I did get a video but it needs editing to remove some of the verbal comments....
|Replica aircraft fly-past|
Okay, so they are a little small. At least the purple umbrella helped get them all in the same shot!
And then the people began to slip away towards the buses. And here's where the system failed.
The four parking area bus "stops" were close together. Instead of organising lines/queues to each, they left it in a chaotic mess. The school leaders blocked everywhere up to try and keep their charges together or at least round them up. That should have been done elsewhere and taken as a group to a bus.
In the end after two and a half hours I made it to a bus. The humour in the crowds shows that at the end of the day, Canadians are generally nice. Some cat calling and rude waves as the seemingly endless procession of cars and coaches took the dignitaries and their hangers-on away before the plebs were supplied with buses.
Once back at Lens I got back to the bike and was ready to leave in ten minutes. I had no idea how to escape the parking and set TomTom for Home. I mixed up "laissser" and "departer" up asking a security guy for the route to "direction a Calais" but in the end TomTom came to our rescue.
Once on the A21 and then the toll A26 I was off like flint. The speed limit is 81mph on the toll sections and I was about that all the way between toll stations. Another €4 spent going north.
At Eurotunnel it told me I was late and had missed my scheduled crossing. As it was 2145 local time I was 55 minutes late for the train. The automat kindly gave me hanger O and a time of 2225 departure.
Once clear of the passport formalities I saw that O was loading. Once again, I sat alongside the train as they loaded all the cars. It's annoying anyway, but when cars with P and Q hangers are loaded first..... Then that is taking the piss. In the end I squeezed on the very end of the train. Just enough room behind the last car so they could close the fire doors with inches to spare. I didn't bother taking any more photographs! OMG what if I had gone on fire..... The 2007 Peugeot in front of me was more likely to do that!
And so 40 minutes later we pulled into Folkestone and I was last off. Duelling with the foreign lorries to get onto the M20.
I was pulling up on the drive at about 10pm. Feeling a little hungry and also in need of the loo.
All in all a really great event to be part of. The chaos at the end could have overshadowed the day's events but for the good humour of the Canadian and British sharing the same fatalistic sense of humour - making jokes out of adversity.
Previous Vimy trips: