SSNS Home > Senior Years > Curricula 9-12 > Grade 11 > Canadian History > Battlefields Tour > 2 August 2010


2 August 2010, Monday
Lille, France
by Raymond Shirritt-Beaumont


After a week with our cousin Nigel in Northern England, my family and I set out once more for the Battlefields. We left at about 10:30 a.m. by Virgin Rail from Lancaster, arriving at Euston Station in London shortly after 1:00 p.m. From there, we walked to St. Pancras (about 10 minutes), where we boarded the Eurostar for Lille, France at 2:30 p.m. I was seated across the aisle from my family next to a German social worker with whom I had an engaging conversation during the trip. In fact, I actually missed the Chunnel crossing! Evidently, it isn’t all that exciting.

My fellow traveller had been holidaying in London with her husband and daughter. After the usual introductions, I told her that we were going on a week’s tour of the Battlefields as a follow-up to my tour in July.  Noticing her evident uncertainty about this subject, I reassured her that the wars were terrible on all sides, and especially so for young German men in WWII, who as citizens in a dictatorship had no choice but to be soldiers. I also noted that there were good people on all sides, including the Berliners who hid Jews throughout the war right under the nose of Adolph Hitler himself. After that, she relaxed, and we talked about the war and other subjects as well. That’s the beauty of travel. It can open doors to new perspectives and understanding.

We arrived in Lille at about 5:00 p.m. It had been an uneventful journey up to this point, but all this was about to change. The rail station was large and busy. Immediately, I felt the impact of being in a place where I could not speak the language. Our first task was sorting out our daughter’s boarding pass for the return to London on August 9. Inexplicably, it had been missed when the rest were printed for us at St. Pancras. Getting directions to the appropriate ticket office, then communicating the problem to an almost unilingual agent was excruciating. Except for the intervention of a bilingual supervisor, we might have been there yet.

The second task facing us was finding the Citadines Hotel. It was only a block and a half away, but because everything was so unfamiliar, it took two sets of directions before we found it. The hotel clerk spoke English, so we didn’t have to rely on my embarrassing attempts at French or on the rather limited translating abilities of my two French Immersion sons!

Our one-bedroom suite was perfect for our family of five. It had a large living room with a pull out sofa and a cot, where the children slept, a fully equipped bathroom, a separate toilet, a large bedroom, and a small kitchenette, with everything we needed to make our own meals. It was our home for the entire week we were in France, and we loved it. If we were to go to Lille again, it would be our first choice as a place to stay.

After settling in, we went back to the rail station to get the Europcar we had booked for the week. I was more than a little apprehensive. Driving a standard-shift car after years on an automatic, as well as manoeuvring an unfamiliar vehicle in the urban traffic of France, was not exactly my idea of a relaxing holiday. However, getting to the places where we wanted to go made it a necessity.

Finding the Europcar office was relatively easy; the rest was not. A pleasant young man named Laurent was more than willing to help us, but he did not speak much English, and our boys were novice translators at best. It took considerable time to complete the paperwork, which was further delayed when I had to go back to Citadines to find out if I had already purchased car insurance. I hadn’t. Since I was rather pessimistic at this juncture about the likelihood of my surviving the week without a fatality, I purchased the maximum.

Eventually, we had keys in hand and received directions to the underground parkade where our car was located. As it turned out, most of Lille’s cars were parked there, or so it seemed. The place was huge. It took us half an hour of looking before our son Liam finally found the car hidden away back in a dark corner. It was now 9:15 p.m. Relieved, we all got inside, and I tried to start the car. Nothing. Tired, stressed to the breaking point, I had almost forgotten how to start a standard-shift vehicle. It was so dark that I couldn’t see the clutch, so I had my foot on the brake, trying to put it into gear. After a few frustrating moments in which I concluded that there was some computerised step I was missing, I decided to go upstairs and get Laurent to come down and help me. It was already fifteen minutes after closing time, but he was still there, and obliging young man that he was, he came and showed me how to start the vehicle. He was even kind enough not to show how stupid he must have felt I was!

Our woes were not over. In all the commotion, we had misplaced the card we needed in order to get out of the parkade, so I had to go up once more to the office with Laurent for another one. Once back at the car, we got it started and cautiously set out for the exit. We went around the circle a couple of times (with everyone yelling out directions) before we found the correct route, and I was about ready to shout Hallelujah, when we finally saw the exit in front of us. All we had to do was insert the card, and the barrier bar would rise. Freedom at last! Well, no. The bar did not rise because the meter screen was telling us we had to pay €1.70. We did not have a “sou” in change!

Had it not been for the patient intervention of my wife, I would either have driven through the barrier or deserted the vehicle right there. Fortunately, she noticed an intercom and phoned security, letting the person know in her Hong-Kong-accented English, that we had a problem. He must have understood because he arrived moments later and let us out. The rest of the trip was over in a few tense moments - left from the exit to a main street, right at the crossroads for a block, then left again at the roundabout, across a pedestrian walkway and an immediate left to the entrance of hotel parking, insert card to open entry door, descend around a narrow entry way, insert card again to raise a barrier and the gate into the parking area on the left, drive through, turn into the parking lot, park the car, and collapse.

One lost obstacle remained. We had been given two four-digit access codes when we registered, one for the suite, and the other for the elevator from the parking area. We had to use this latter code to get into the elevator room, then use it again to activate the elevator. This took our tired lot a few minutes to figure out, but we managed. It was now 10:30 p.m., and we still hadn't eaten. However, we found a little French restaurant where we ordered sausages and chips. It was near closing, but our hosts were very accommodating, and the meal hit the spot. We returned to the hotel at around 11:35, and were to bed by about 12:10 a.m. It had been a long, exhausting day, and we were ready for it!


Waiting for the train at Lancaster with Cousin Nigel
My wife Wan had been anticipating this trip for weeks
Kieran (left) and Liam on the train headed for London
Dad and Emmeline having lunch