11 September 2006

Arrassing About - Aftermath - Day 1

Probably, for the first time ever we arrived with plenty of time to spare at the Shuttle terminal at Cheriton! But, sadly, the recently introduced "self check-in" was defeating the hordes car drivers that were unable to stretch their arms far enough to reach the touch-screens and who had parked too close to get their doors open to get out and do it.

It doesn't seem like rocket science to use the stats off the booking system to know the peaks and troughs of travel and to make sure that they have humans working at those times.

In the end we made it around to the terminal building where Nigel & Jane (Triumph Sprint) and Simon & Denise (Blackbird) were waiting. For once we managed to avoid the security check and went straight through to the queues to get on the train.

In the end, due to some problem that was never defined, the 0828 train was full despite around fifty cars and us with the right letter still waiting in the queue, so we got "priority" on the 0844. Priority? Not on a bike. It means that you can move from the queue to the side of the train and wait until they load the cars and then squeeze us on the back of the last carriage?

Once on the other side Nigel's "Betsy" took over leading us. Betsy is a Garmin Quest! For me, it was a pleasure not to lead. I have done it for years and I was quite enjoying my role as tail-end Charlie.

Another reason was that my Quest, Doris, after her problems on holiday where she lost satellites all the time, has been reset on the instructions of Garmin. She then thought we were in Garmin's US headquarters and was supposed to find the satellites to work okay. In the end it took her the best part of 8 hours (in three sessions!!) to find a third satellite to work properly.

Betsy took us the wrong way onto the A16 heading towards Boulogne rather than the opposite way. Then once up and running we had an easy run to Guines and then Ardres. Between the two we stopped for a coffee at the Restaurant du Drap d'Or, or the Cloth of Gold, which is situated on the main road near to where the Kings of France and England (see link) met to have some sort of discourse, but in the end ponced about that nothing got done.

The next port of call was lunch in St Omer. We arrived in the main square whilst the market was still on so we parked up with a load of bikes and left them there on the pavement. The nearest restaurant was "Les 3 Caves" where Claire and I have eaten before and we tucked into the €22 lunch. Bit of a belly buster, but in the end we mostly chose salads.

It was so hot that Nigel and I both needed some head cover... follicly challenged as we are, and guess what? A Buff folds to make a sort of pirate hat or even a bad-ass biker bandana... Now where's my Harley?

After lunch we had a round the houses escape from St Omer and finally got on the road to Arques where we found the boat lift. It's as you can imagine in an industrial area, after all that's the general idea of canals; to get goods about. The gippo site on one side of the towpath didn't fill us with much enthusiasm for leaving the bikes unattended with soft luggage on the Blackbird. We found that the boat lift, Ascenseur des Fontinettes, was open to the public but is no longer in use. Claire chatted to the lady that lives in the barge (you can see it in the pic on the linked website) about her cats and dog. We decided that now we had found the place, we'd fit it into another visit. So we set off with Betsy misfiring and leading us all over the place. In the end I took the lead and without Doris (or the Michelin map that was on the side of the bath at home) we had to try and navigate using road signs, none of which featured Béthune where we would turn off the N43 towards Arras. I have no idea how far we rode round and round before we eventually found the N43!

From then on plain sailing to Arras via the D937. This road takes you across two of the three peaks that formed the basis if the Battles of Artois in 1914 and 1915. Two were won back from the Germans by the French, Notre Dame de Lorette and La Targette. The third to the east is Vimy Ridge. Vimy Ridge was captured by the Canadians in 1917.

We stopped on the D937 at Souchez by a couple of monuments.

The first is a traditional monument to General Barbot who led the 77th Division and who very un-General-like was killed in action nearby.

Just up the road is the big French cemetery and museum dedicated to the battles for the three hills at Notre Dame de Lorette. We didn't have enough tome to call in and it was by now after 4pm. Another day perhaps.

The second was much larger and laid out with an eternal flame and a strange water feature, the white marble is inscribed with the the names of the French soldiers that were killed in action in North Africa during the independence wars that raged in the 1950's and 60's.

As we set off southwards the signs to the left were to the Canadian Monument at Vimy Ridge, although we couldn't see it from where we were.

On the road for the last ten miles or so there are cemeteries to the different armies involved, as well as the British, French and German, there's also a Czechoslovakian cemetery and one to the Polish troops that fought in the Foreign Legion.


Once in Arras, Doris, thankfully restored to working condition (touching wood!!), led us to the hotel. Finding the entrance was more complicated though. Once booked-in we parked in the underground car-park. Exercising our right to avoid paying for the car-park, we took on ticket and shot through together and parked in the motorcycle-only bays. The slippery floor had all three of us spinning the rear wheel as we shot away.

After some R&R in the room we assembled for a drink in the bar and then to go into town for a walk around and dinner. Nigel had a rib place in mind in the Grand Place. As luck would have it we had booked for the same weekend as Arras was having a Quad Festival, and the Grand Place was set up with displays of the four-wheeled vehicles and their owners...

As we ate the noise from the thumping disco was almost ear splitting and the screech of two-stroke engines added to it. We watched the freestyle solo riders doing their bit on two ramps and a massive pile of straw bales. Quite impressive before it all came to an end about 1030pm and everyone drifted away.

We had a turn around the town again before going back to the hotel for a nightcap and then to bed.

Pic (left) shows the town hall all lit up at night.

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