Category Archives: France

My Lead Soldier Collection – The Norman Conquest

Norman Knights 1066

William the Conqueror and a Norman Knight.

In England we have to National Day, no Independence Day, I am willing to wager that not many people would know the date of St George’s Day, in fact we tend to celebrate a day when we were invaded and lost our Independence.

The Norman Conquest of England is quite unique.  By their very nature most hostile invasions and occupations end up being only rather temporary but in this case, not so.

The Year 1066 is probably the most memorable in English history.  On October 14th (now officially Hastings Day) that year Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England and most of his army with him were cut down in battle and William, Duke of Normandy earned his nickname “William the Conqueror”.

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My Lead Soldier Collection – English Standard Bearer at Agincourt

Agincourt Knight

I visited the Agincourt site in August 2013 and after a short drive from our hotel we arrived at the site of the battle that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time and if we hadn’t been paying attention we may well have missed what is now a rather unremarkable field in northern France.

The signage isn’t very special either…

Agincourt Field

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On This Day – Napoleon Bonaparte and La Colonne de la Grande Armée

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 18th August 2013 I was in Boulogne in Northern France…

La Colonne de la Grande Armée

La Colonne de la Grande Armée is a monument constructed in the 1840s and is a fifty-three metre-high column topped with a statue of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

It marks the location of the base camp where Napoleon  assembled an army of eighty thousand men all reeking of garlic, singing  ‘La Marseillaise’ and impatient to invade England.  It was initially intended to commemorate a successful campaign, but this proved to be rather premature and as he didn’t quite manage that it now remembers instead the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur.

Like most of history’s tyrants there are not many statues of Bonaparte but although there are no statues of Stalin or Hitler or Franco for example a few of Napoleon remain.  In addition to this one there are two in Paris at Les Invalides and another at Place Vendome, there are two statues of him depicted as Mars the Peacemaker, one at Aspley House in London (the home of the Duke of Wellington) and another in Milan and there is a monument to him in Warsaw in Poland to commemorate the establishment of the Duchy of Warsaw by Napoleon in 1807.

I confess that I have always been an admirer of Napoleon, setting aside his aggressive military ambitions I tend to concur with the assessment of British historian Andrew Roberts…

“The ideas that underpin our modern world—meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on—were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire.”

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On This Day – The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 11th August 2013 I was in Northern France…

The Blockhaus d'Éperlecque

The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques was a giant bunker built by Nazi Germany between March 1943 and July 1944 and was originally intended to be a launching facility for the V2 ballistic missile. It was designed to accommodate over one hundred missiles at a time and to launch up to thirty-six a day all destined to land and explode on London and the South-East of England.

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Windows and Doors in Northern France

Shuttered Window

Wimereux became a popular seaside resort at the time of the Second Empire, a hundred and fifty years ago and today retains an air of sophistication that presents a slightly faded but still elegant seaside resort with hotels, bars, cafés and restaurants, and an alternately sandy and rocky shoreline.

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On This Day – Boulogne, France

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 11th August 2010 I was in France in the Northern port city of Boulogne.  I have been to Boulogne several times and I am happy to declare it one of my favourite cities in all of France.

Boulogne Old Town

I like Boulogne, I like Northern France, I especially like Northern France in August because all of the French people have gone south leaving the north for us Brits and the asylum seekers trying to get a boat to cross the English Channel.

The old town is built within the original Roman walls and has recently been well restored and it was in complete contrast to the concrete and glass of the sea front and the modern glitzy shopping streets.  Here is the beating heart of a medieval city with history gently oozing from every corner with a castle, a cathedral and narrow streets lined with charming properties, little shops, inviting cafés and bars.

Boulogne 02

From the car park we walked along the main street full of interesting shops and busy restaurants and under the walls of the huge cathedral which was rebuilt in the nineteenth century as a symbol of the revival of the French Catholic Church.  During the 1789 Revolution the old cathedral had been closed, Catholicism was replaced by order of Robespierre by ‘The Cult of the Supreme Being” and Christian worship forbidden.  The Church was declared the property of the State and then dismantled and sold for building projects, stone by stone.  In 1802 Napoleon reinstated the Catholic Church in France.

The medieval cathedral was the site of a shrine to ‘Our Lady of Boulogne’ a representation of a vision that appeared in Boulogne in or around the year 646 and which arrived in a boat without sails, oars, or sailors, on which stood a wooden statue of the Virgin holding the Child Jesus in her arms.  The French Revolutionaries didn’t have a lot of regard for this sort thing and so at the same time as they destroyed the cathedral they burned the priceless wooden statue as well.

Anyway, the church was rebuilt in the nineteenth century complete with a massive dome, one of the largest in Europe, and inside there is a modern replica of ‘Our Lady of Boulogne’ which is one of four that were sculptured in 1943 and toured France until 1948 when it was known as ‘The Lady of the Great Return’ and is today symbolic of the reconciliation between nations.

This was nice I thought, such a shame that we in UK have foolishly chosen to turn our back on Europe…

Boulogne 01

From the cathedral we walked along the Rue de Lille and negotiated the pavement table barricades scattered almost randomly across the pedestrianised street and then to the Hotel de Ville with its immaculate gardens like a green  oasis in the centre of the cramped city where we stopped for a while and enjoyed the hot sunshine and the contrast of a cool beer under the shadow of the city’s twelfth century UNESCO World Heritage Site medieval Belfry.

Inside the town hall there was free entry to the Tower that included a guided tour and history of the building which was helpfully given in English as well as French.  There was a long climb with a couple of stops for informative narrative and there were good views from the top of the tower and we were lucky to be part of only a small group of visitors because we had time and space to enjoy the rooftop vista.

Boulogne 09

We left the old town by a gate next to the Castle Museum and I am forever amazed at the bits of trivia that I pick up on my travels because who would have guessed that inside is the most important exhibition of masks from Alaska in the whole world?  I couldn’t help wondering why the most important exhibition of masks from Alaska isn’t in Alaska?

After the break we walked half of the walls and then returned to the car to go to the fishing port to find some lunch and after we had some difficulty finding a parking spot we strolled casually down the hill into the town past the Nausicaa Aquarium, one of the largest aquarium museums in France.

We strolled along the busy docks which, it turns out, is the biggest fishing port in France and there is a large fishing fleet including deep-sea trawlers and factory ships, as well as smaller sea-going and inshore fishing boats.  A third of France’s fresh fish catch is landed here, and a huge quay-side fish processing factory makes 20% of the nation’s tinned fish, and half of the frozen fish, fish fingers and other fish based ready meals.

Boulogne Fish Market Postcard

At a seafront restaurant we asked for menus but things went spectacularly wrong when an unexpected strong gust of wind blew my glass of beer over straight over.  It was getting quite windy now so we tried two or three different tables and then abandoned the seafront lunch idea and returned instead to the shelter of the old town where perhaps we should have stayed in the first place.

Here we selected a restaurant on Rue de Lille and ordered what we thought was going to be a snack but turned out to be quite enormous meals which, although we didn’t know it at the time was going to spoil our evening meal.  Mum didn’t enjoy her Welsh Rarebit, Alan had an oversize omelette, Richard had a pizza that would have been sufficient for all four of us but I did get the pot of moules marinière that I had been promising myself.

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On This Day – Clairière de l’Armistice at Compiegne

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 5th August 2017 I was in Northern France visiting a site of major historical significance…

001 (2)

Close by to where we were staying in Vic-Sur-Aisne was a particular place that I was keen to visit so one morning after breakfast I set off alone towards Compiègne and to the Clairière de l’Armistice, a historic site where the armistice of 1918 brought the First-World-War to an end and where just over twenty years later in 1940 Adolf Hitler dictated the terms of the surrender of France.

It is not a spectacular site, there is nothing grand about it, it is one of those places that you visit because of what happened there not for what you are going to see – two momentous moments in modern European history.

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An Alternative World Showcase at EPCOT

In my last post I took you to Disney and World Showcase at EPCOT.  There are eleven countries showcased at the theme park and some time ago I wondered why it was those particular eleven and speculated on an alternative selection.

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Postcard From Mont Saint-Michel, France

Mont St Michel Postcard

From the Visitor Centre there is free bus transport to the tidal island but we choose to walk so that we could appreciate the stunning approach much as monks or pilgrims would have had over the centuries and it took us forty minutes or so to reach the entrance.  I thought there must surely be a fee, but no, it too was free and I liked this place even more.

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Entrance Tickets – Château de Pierrefonds

Pierrefonds Castle

Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in France because, according to the Official Tourist Board, there are almost five-thousand but it seems to me to includes a lot of questionable small Chateaux in that number. For comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom and just about two thousand five hundred in Spain.

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