Archives for July 2007


A Visit to the Australian WWI Battlefields in France

Planning is the strength of all our travels but lack of planning almost ruined our visit to Amiens.

The plan to hire a rental car on arrival, and do a self-driving tour of the former Australian battlefields, immediately slipped into trouble because the rental companies have no desks at the railway station. No problem, I call Avis and book a car. Car booked I contacted the local representative, no cars available today. Out of time, we grabbed a cab and headed to the hotel, Formule 1 Amiens, a low cost business/traveller stop.

Formule 1 provides basic rooms with a sink, and communal showers and toilets that self-clean after every use. Out in the boonies, we thought food options ay be limited but we found a mega-mart nearby with the makings for great picnics and a McDonalds to keep the teenagers happy. Sometimes you get lucky without planning.

Next morning I took the bus into town to pick-up our reserved car but they still had none available. As Seinfeld said, ‘They know how to take the reservation, just not how to hold the reservation and that’s most important part’. Avis made my blacklist.

Providence intervened, I stumbled on Europcar on the way back, twenty minutes latter I headed off in a Renault Clio. A good car, friendly service and a willingness to help despite language problems, Europcar gets my future business. After gathering a picnic basket full of fresh food at the mega-mart, we headed out to Villers-Bretonneux.

The l’Ecole Victoria is a good first stop, the school built with donations from Victoria houses a small informative museum with some interesting Australian artifacts. A sign above the school grounds simply reads, ‘Never forget Australia’.

Numerous Australian memorials and war graves exist in the region, the main memorial just outside Villers-Bretonneux on the high ground overlooking the former battlefields. You get a better sense of the trench war stalemate that existed until 1918 when you can survey many of the famous battlefields from one hill; including Hamel, Amiens, Villers-Bretonneux, Pozieres and Mouguet Farm. Many visitors arrive to find their ancestor’s grave but I visited with the unknown soldiers who lie with their mates, only unto God.

The Hamel Memorial is in disrepair less than a decade after its dedication, a sad sight for any Australian visitor. Work is planned to restore the monument in time for the 90th Anniversary commemoration in 2008. Most of the damage is due to poor design and construction but there has also been some vandalism reported although not evident to us.

Americans often overlook this region for the D-Day Beaches and Verdun but some of their first battles in World War One occurred at the Somme with the Australians. American companies fought with the Australian Corps under LtGen Sir John Monash, and Australian SNCOs were embedded with American units to pass on their hard won battlefield knowledge.

Le Hamel Fast Facts:

Le Hamel is the first battle that the Australian Corps fought under Australian Command (LtGen Sir John Monash).

Monash predicted his force would achieve all objectives in 90 minutes, it took 93 minutes.

Two Australians, Private Henry Dalzie and Corporal Thomas Axford were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions during the battle.

Corporal Thomas A Pope, US Army was awarded the first Medal of Honor of WWI for his actions at Le Hamel.

The King George V knighted Monash on the field after his victory at Le Hamel.


Travel Photographs – London, England

Every week I post a few of my favourite photographs from our travels, and this week I’ve selected photos from our recent visit to London:

Big Ben seen from Whitehall

Trafalgar Square


What to do and see Bruges, Belgium.

Bruges, 17th century splendor trapped in time for 21st century travellers, relaxes your soul and if you drink to much Belgian beer softens your brain.


After train fumbling our way to Bruges, fate delivered us into the creaky floor ambience of Koen & Annemie Dieltiens’ Bed and Breakfast. Well located near the town square, and decorated with their eclectic art collection Koen and Annemie created the perfect base for your visit to Bruges. Just be sure to leave the candy alone at the foot of the spiral staircase. My daughter is convinced the large wooden figure holding the candy follows any takers to their room with murderous intent.

Bruges Vibe

All the sights, shopping and restaurants lie within the one and half square mile old city, and you could blitz through Bruges in a long day. Improve your experience with a two day visit and experience Bruges instead of just seeing the city. Grab a beer (choose from 300+ varieties) and watch the world roll by between museums.

Food and Drink

A scrumptious continental breakfast served with old world charm fuelled our bodies and soul as fellow travellers shared their tips and experiences. During the day, we grazed on Vlaamse frites (Flemish fries), Belgian waffles, fruit and the occasional beer.

Many visitors to Bruges dine at the many market square restaurants but we opted for two back street local favourites, L’Estaminet and Pili Pili. Both served great pasta and a fine selection of Beigium’s best beers but the local buzz at L’Estaminet drew us back for a second night.

Belgian beer, art and history in a bottle, forced me to recant years of beer denial. Each beer is served in specific glass emblazoned with its name (expect an apology if they run out and serve yours in a different one) to enhance your beverage experience. Fruity lambics, distinctly Belgian and interesting, get a lot of press but the Trappist beers turn wine connoisseurs into beer barrel polka dancers, and deserve your full attention.

Sights and Museums

Grand stain glass windows filter light into the small chapel containing Bruges Holiest relic, a small crystal purported to contain the blood of Christ. Both the faithful and curious appreciate the opulence of the reliquary whose grandeur befits the relic of this stature.

In the Church of Our Lady, Michelangelo’s petite sculpture of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus is serene, masterful but lacks the power of his David or the Piety in Rome. Expect to be shooshed by an attendant if your voice is raised above an ear twisting whisper.

Tour Bruges only brewery for some fun beer facts, a quick glance at the brewing process and a great town view from the balcony (weather permitting). The tour finishes with the only beer brewed in town, Brugse Zot, and a fine brew it is.

Related link: Travel Photographs – Bruges, Belgium


Travel Photographs – Dutch TT, Assen

A few photographs from the 2007 Dutch TT in Assen on 30 June:

Valentino Rossi chasing Casey Stoner - Dutch TT 2007

Bike Park at Assen - Dutch TT

Dutch TT Assen Catching a Push Home


What should I do in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam, the City of Sin, cannabis sold openly in coffee shops and prostitution advertised in windows for customers and gawking tourists but is this really all there is to this old town. Like a g-string sticking out of a beautiful woman’s jeans, sex and drugs  grab your attention but it is old city, its art and history that keep you interested.


Friet met Ketchup – Flemish Fries and deli food filled our hunger, frsh sandwiches or rolls, fruit and yogurt shakes for the health conscious but fries for the indulgence.

Pancakes, thin crepe like batter, spread with your topping choice are a local favourite. Choose savoury or sweet to suit your tastes or mood, perhaps share one of each with a friend.

Sights and Museums

Van Gogh’s troubled genius stared out at us his self-portraits amongst the 200 originals in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. The linear arrangement shows his progression as an artist and I realised that he never created a style because he experimented with a new technique or colour palate in every painting.

Dark brooding backgrounds and carefully illuminated features mark the portraitist genius of Rembrandt, and the Rijksmuseum houses a large collection of his masterpieces.

No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to Anne Frank’s House, and image your life contained within these small rooms for two years.

Traveller Hint: Visit the ten Boom House in Haarlem to hear about the people who hid Jewish people from the Nazis.


Inclement weather drove us on to the trams and buses of Amsterdam’s efficient public transport, easy to use with stops near most attractions. Hiring a bike for your stay is a great alternative in this easy to navigate city.

Traveller Hint: Lock your bike up as directed or it will be stolen.


Hotel Carillon provided a claustrophobic room for our quartet but you cannot beat the view out the window or the scrumptious breakfast each morning. Rick Steves warns light sleepers to avoid the front rooms because of the street noise and the streets were bustling late into the night.