France, Belgium · 13 Days · 19 Moments · November 2017

Jane's voyage in France

4 December 2017

This morning before we left Wimereux we visited the grave of John McRae who was a Canadian soldier during WWI and a surgeon during the Second battle of Ypres in Belgium. He is best known for writing the poem “In Flanders Fields”. He is buried in the cemetery in Wimereux.
After a croissant and coffee we left Wimereux and drove to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial which was designed by Canadian sculptor Walter Seymour Allward. The monument is majestic and took eleven years to build. It rests on a bed of 11,000 tons of concrete, reinforced with hundreds of tons of steel. We stopped first at the visitors centre which was officially unveiled on November 9th,1997. The welcome centre is staffed by Canadian student guides and our guide Danielle took us for a tour of the tunnels and the restored trenches. The WWI Western Front had an extensive system of trenches, underground tunnels and dugouts. A portion of the tunnels is now open to the public and we walked through with our guide. The trench that can be seen at Vimy were reconstructed between 1925 and 1927. They are located in the same positions as the original Canadian and German outpost lines of 1917. When we finally went to see the memorial it was so foggy that we actually had to guess where it was!

3 December 2017

Last night we went for dinner at the Michelin One Star restaurant, La Liégeoise, which is in the Hotel Atlantic where we are staying. You can do either a 6 or 8 course meal, with or without accompanying wines. We chose the 6 course but not the accompanying wine, instead had a bottle of Chablis. The food was very good and nicely presented. Each table in the restaurant has a view of the English Channel. Today we walked around Wimereux, to the commercial centre and back to the beach. This morning the tide was high so the water was up to the break wall, whereas yesterday when we arrive the tide was low and the beach was massive. We then drove back towards Calais to enjoy the beautiful scenery and stopped at a look-out where people were parasailing and flying remote-control gliders. As well in a field below the look-out,hunters and their dogs were aligned in a row walking through a field shooting partridges.

2 December 2017

This morning Bruges was surrounded by heavy fog. We left the city and drove towards Ypres Belgium and drove along the Canadian Route of Remembrance (1915-1917):the Ypres Salient. The Ypres Salient was one of the most contested sections of the Western Front during WWI and became the grave of 500,000 men. Along the route there are many memorial and cemeteries that have special meaning to Canadians including the John McCrae site where Canadian Lt.-Col surgeon John McRae wrote “In Flanders Fields”. We walked by the Menin Gate in Ypres which was erected to commemorate Commonwealth soldiers killed in battle during WWI and who remained unidentified and thus have no marked graves. We then drove to Dunkirk where we stopped for lunch. Then we took the scenic road along the shore driving towards Wimereux where we are staying for two nights. Along the road at times you can see across the channel and spot the White Cliffs of Dover and the many ferries that cross the channel.

1 December 2017

Yesterday we left Strasbourg in the rain for a long drive to Bruges, Belgium using the circle road around Brussels. We drove through rain and wet snow and arrived in Bruges around 4pm. The hotel we are staying at the Grand Hotel Casselbergh is right in the centre of town and we drove around in circles a few time, crossing that same bridge and canal a few times before we found the hotel. Then we had to drive around again to park the car! After settling in we walked 800 metres in the rain to our restaurant. As it was raining quite heavily we were a bit reluctant to go to this restaurant, Bistro Pro Deo, but we were very glad we did as the food was delicious! It is a very small restaurant, seating only 18, run by a husband and wife. He is the chef and she is the server. We shared fois gras from a local farm and had sole and the local beef stew. We walked back to the hotel and had a glass of cava by the fireplace in the bar.
It is a nice sunny day today in Bruges! We walked around the city exploring the town and the Christmas markets. Belgium is know for it lace and chocolate and there are mainly stores selling North in the town. A lot of tourists in Bruges are from the UK as they can take the Eurostar train to Calais or a ferry, consequently you hear a lot more English spoken here. After walking around we took a short 30 minute boat ride which explores the canals of the city. We also visited the “church of our Lady” which has a tower of 115 metres in height and is the tallest structure in the city. For dinner we went to Park Restaurant which is the #1 rated restaurant in Bruges on Trip,Advisor. The restaurant is in an old building and there are two rooms where you feel like you are dining in someone’s home. The owner Axel greats you as does his brother who is the chef. The menu is four courses with each served with a paired wine. The food was very good as were the wine pairings. Overall a great choice,

29 November 2017

Last night we had dinner at La Hache which Michelle and I wanted to try in September but we didn’t have time. It is large by Strasbourg standards and more modern. The food was quite good. Walking back to our apartment we strolled through the area of the Christmas markets. The stalls were closed as the market closes at 9pm since whole area of the Christmas markets is on high security with many levels of police patrolling. In the morning we took the tram from Gallia to the train station for Marie-Andree to catch her train to Paris and then her flight home to Montreal. We then returned to our area and I met Michelle at the local food market to buy produce and then we walked to the large grocery store getting in our 12,000 steps for the day. After lunch Maurice and I walked around the Christmas markets again and had our last glass of warm mulled wine as we say goodbye to Michelle and Strasbourg tomorrow morning before heading to Bruges, Belgium.

28 November 2017

Today we walked through the Christmas markets and visited a store that specializes in Alsatian linens such as tea towels and aprons. The markets set up around the cathedral add a festive air to the area. There are many tourists in the city and particularly around the cathedral area. There are many food and drink stalls at the market as well with local delicacies such as ”Knacks” and hot mulled wine, both red and white. Michelle had class this morning and then met us for lunch at Le Michel cafe and brasserie which is near the Gallic tram stop. The restaurant was very crowded with locals and students getting lunch.

27 November 2017

Sunday morning we left Strasbourg for a four hour drive to the Champagne region of France. The drive goes through beautiful countryside and follows the route the TGV took. We got to Epernay where we were staying overnight at a small hotel called the Hotel Jean Moët. As our rooms were not ready we walked a few blocks and had a glass of champagne at La Madison Georges Cartier. The most famous street in Epernay is the Avenue de Champagne which features the leading Champagne manufactures. For dinner we went to Bistrot Le 7 which was quite near the hotel and the food was delicious especially the champagne chocolates they serve with coffee. Monday morning we drove to Reims and visited the Taittinger Champagne house for a tour of the tunnels where they manufacture the Compte champagne which is their premium line. We tasted their regular line, which is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. Taittinger is known for using predominantly Chardonnay grapes. After our visit we returned to Strasbourg.

25 November 2017

Under rainy skies we left Strasbourg and drove towards Colmar where we were planning to have lunch and visit the Christmas markets. On our way we stopped to visit the Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg which was under construction from the 12th-15th centuries. It sits on top of Stophanberch mountain at a height of 755 metres. Under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 the castle became a possession of France. After visiting the castle we drove to Colmar and finally found parking as the town is very busy due to the Christmas markets. When we got to the restaurant where we planned to have lunch it was full, however we went to one down the street where we sampled the local delicacy, Flammekueche. These Alsatian specialties are similar to a thin-crusted pizza made with creme fraiche usually topped with onions and lardons and baked in a wood-burning oven. They were very good! On our way back we stopped to buy wine and cheese as Michelle was having us over tonight to meet some of her friends

24 November 2017

We travelled by car to Baden Baden which is about an hour drive from Strasbourg. It started out as a nice sunny day and the countryside is very pretty as we drive from France to Germany. When we arrived we parked underground in 5e city centre and walked around the city. We visited the casino which is where the James Bond film Casino Royale was filmed and walked through the Christmas market stall which were being set up. We returned to get the car to drive outside Baden Baden for lunch at the outskirts of the Black Forest but were not allowed in the underground as there had been a chemical spill of some sorts. There were around 50 emergency personnel surrounding the area. We had been looking forward to having lunch at Cafe Roderswald but had to cancel the reservation and had lunch in town instead. Maurice had a conference call when we got back to Strasbourg so we went to visit the Christmas markets which had just opened and sampled some red and white warmed wine.

23 November 2017

Another sunny day in Strasbourg! Today we had a relaxing morning. Around noon Maurice and Michelle went to pick up our rental car. After lunch we took the tram to Petite France, the oldest area in Strasbourg where we walked around. In this area they are setting up stalls for the Christmas market which starts Friday. There are market stalls throughout the city. Petite France forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Grande Ile designated in 1988. The name Petite France comes from the “hospice of the syphilitic” which was built in the late fifteenth century on this island, to cure people with syphilis. The area is quaint with cobble stone streets and old homes originally used by tanners to cure the skins of their animals. Michelle went home to study and we walked down the street and stumbled on a quaint restaurant “Au Diable bleu” which specializes in aged beef. When we went for dinner at 7:15 the restaurant was empty but soon filled up predominantly with men looking for a steak.

22 November 2017

In the morning Michelle brought us baguette and croissants from her favourite bakery, Au Pain de Mon Grand-pere, which were delicious. We then went to the local market by her place where we got some local items and sheep cheese from Corsica. After we went to visit Notre Dame de Strasbourg, a catholic cathedral which is considered a fine example of Gothic architecture. The cathedral houses an astronomical clock, where at 12:30each day one angel sounds the bell and another turns over an hourglass and then sculpted figurines including the twelve apostles on the astronomical clock move. We then had lunch at Copains Commes des Cochons which the hotel I had stayed at in September recommended but was never open. After lunch we took a boat tour. Strasbourg is encircled by two arms of the river Ill and on the boat you pass by picturesque scenery and go through locks in the old tanners district. For dinner we returned to Les banquets des Sophistes where Michelle and I ate in September.
We left Toronto on Air France and landed in Paris and then took the TGV to Strasbourg. We are visiting with Michelle in Strasbourg for a week and then Marie-Andree will go back to Montreal and Maurice and I will drive on to Bruges in Belgium. We are staying at 7 Quai des Pecheurs which is an apartment located inside a very old building across the road from the L’Ill river. The apartment is located on the second floor which is quite a climb up a fairly steep staircase. It is typical of French apartments we have rented with quite tiny bathrooms and kitchens but is quite suitable for our purposes. We picked up a few groceries and then Michelle came over. We had cocktails and some delicious snacks from the local Greek delicatessen then headed out for an early dinner as we were quite jet-lagged. In Strasbourg few people eat that early so from 6:30-7:30 we were the only ones in the restaurant, Broc en stock, that had a Tintin theme for its decor. The food was quite good, especially the pizza
Mansion des Tanneurs
Outside Notre Dame de Strasbourg
Notre Dame de Strasbourg