Saturday, 1 April 2023

Aux Morts des Armees de Champagne

The monument which is officially called Aux Morts des Armées de Champagne, but usually referred to as the Ossuary of Navarin in English, was inaugurated in 1924. It commemorates the sacrifice of soldiers who fought in Champagne in the First World War.

It is situated in the county (département) of Marne, on the D977 between Sommepy-Tahure and Souain-Perthes-les-Hurlus near the former Navarin Farm. It is one of the National Necropoles.

Ossuary of Navarin, Champagne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

In the aftermath of the First World War a multitude of associations set to work raising funds for memorials. The Ossuary was the brainchild of two French generals and the money raised by public subscription. During 1923 there was a massive national press and leaflet campaign to raise awareness of the project and to solicit donations. The first stone was laid in November 1923 and it was clear that the population had a need to create sites of remembrance. Later, the management and ownership of the 5 hectare site was taken over by a permanent association. 

Gradually it became an ossuary, as more and more remains of mostly unidentified soldiers without proper graves were collected. Today it contains the bones of more than 10 000 soldiers. In 1948 General Henri Gouraud who had commanded some of these men from the IVth Army was also interred there at his request on his death. In 1969 General André-Gaston Prételet, who had been the Chief of Staff of the IVth Army, joined them on his death.

To ensure the monument's future it was ceded to the State in 2019 and became a Necropole Nationale. The Association which was the former owner continues to exist and organises the annual memorial ceremony and opens the monument to the public.

The pink sandstone monument is in the shape of a pyramid surmounted by the figures of three charging soldiers, one of which is General Gouraud. The giant statue is by Maxime Real del Sarte, who used his fallen younger brother as the model for the other French soldier. The third soldier is an American, modelled on Quentin Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a pilot killed in the War.

Inside is a list of the 102 French divisions, 4 American divisions, 2 Russian brigades, a Czechoslovakian brigade and a Polish regiment that made up the Armies of Champagne. There are a number of personal memorial plaques, including one to the four sons of the French President Paul Doumer who lost their lives.

Friday, 31 March 2023

A Week on the Road part 2

Yesterday I write about our drive to Amsterdam. This is the return journey.

We left Amsterdam last Saturday, playing the Amstelveen escape game. The voice in the dashboard spent an hour trying to make us turn left onto a road that was being dug up, but then we managed to decode some roadsigns and get onto our chosen route.

I had decided to take a different route home, driving past Rotterdam and across the sea defences of Zeeland. This was a great choice, with not too much traffic (Saturday morning, remember) and some excellent traditional wind powered water pumps (windmills). It was breezy - force 8 - but sunny, and the views were excellent. After a lunch stop we progressed (via a new and unmapped autoroute interchange) to Calais, then on to Abbeville via minor roads.

The next day we set off home along the free section of autoroute before rejoining the smaller roads. Many of these are now upgraded to near Autoroute standard, so the trip costs €47 less in tolls, but takes less than an hour longer.

We arrived home at about 15h, having driven 2078km, averaging 60km/h and using 5.5 litres of fuel per 100km.

I love driving long distances, but spending what seems like hours trying to find the correct autoroute entry does nothing for me. We encountered a lot of roadworks in Belgium, which added about four hours to our travelling time in added traffic jams and confusion. Overall, though... ace!

Thursday, 30 March 2023

A Week on the Road part1

As Susan said yesterday we spent last week on the road.

Our original plan was to catch the train to Amsterdam, but tickets for the Vermeer exhibition were being snapped up quickly and had we waited for the train tickets to become available we might have missed out on exhibition tickets. For some unknown reason the TGV and Thalys tickets for mid March weren't released until six weeks before the date we wanted to travel. Anyways...

I decided to drive via the smaller roads, not paying tolls, seeing some countryside, and putting faces to names. (Do places have faces? That's probably a debate for another time.)

Our first day was to Troyes,  345km, where we stayed the night. 

On the second day we drove to Tervuren, stopping for lunch at Rocroi on the Franco/Belgian border and the Waterloo battle memorials. 335km.

Our third day of driving was from Tervuren to Amsterdam via Alexander and Caroline's new chateau in Antwerp. Because we had missed it the day before, we went via Ghent then got caught in the mahoosive permanent traffic jam that is Antwerp. 308km

Each day we spent at least five hours driving, stopping when we saw something that might be interesting. It wasn't the fastest trip, but it was an appropriate trip for two mature people with plenty of time on their hands. And it gives us plenty of things to blog about.

Wednesday, 29 March 2023

A Week Away in Belgium and the Netherlands - Highlights

We've just come back from a week away in Belgium and the Netherlands. We went because Simon really wanted to see the Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum and then places to visit and people to see got added until it turned into a week long road trip via Champagne, Tervuren, Ghent, Anterp, Amstelveen, Amsterdam and Normandy. Here are my three highlights to pique your interest, and I'll write more detailed posts over the next few weeks. Our grateful thanks go to Lisa and Simon, Caroline and Alexander, and Ingrid and Huub for hosting and generously showing us around their patches.

Ghent altarpiece, Belgium. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The Ghent Altarpiece, a stupendous piece of medieval art.

Polder, Amstelveen, the Netherlands. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A polder on the outskirts of Amstelveen, a haven for many waterfowl and waders.

Vermeer exhibition, Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands. Photo by Loire Valley Time Valley.
At the Vermeer exhibition, a once in a lifetime experience which sold out almost immediately.

Tuesday, 28 March 2023

Fossils in the Garden

Fossils from the Loire Valley, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The Loire Valley is the remnant of an ancient tropical sea, and everyone finds fossils in their gardens. This little haul is displayed on the low wall of our friends Huub and Ingrid's terrace. All from their garden in Preuilly. The fossils are mostly sponges, but also corals and a bivalve shell.

Monday, 27 March 2023

Champagne Anyone?

Wines in a cellar, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Xavier Fortin, the sommelier at La Promenade, a Michelin starred restaurant in Le Petit Pressigny (population 338 and under 10 kilometres from where we live) periodically announces that his troglodyte cave cellar will be open and purchases can be made. So off I went to pick up champagne (Pierre Legras Orior brut, for €25 a bottle) and other sparkling wine (Domaine Patrice Colin, Les Perles d'Anne-Sophie  €11 a bottle). I bought some as gifts and some for myself. Both wines are very drinkable, affordable and it was a great opportunity to get some classy wine. My friend Bernard was there too, buying for a couple of family events coming up.

Wines in a cellar, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Further reading: Pierre Legras Champagne website, in English [link]. The Orior has tiny bubbles and is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Meunier.

Wine cellar, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Les Perles d'Anne-Sophie is a natural sparkling wine made near Vendome, with no dosage, from a blend of 50% Chenin, 30% Chardonnay, and 20% Pineau d'Aunis, sold as a vin de France because it doesn't fit any AOC rules. It has wonderfully green apple flavours. The vines are 15 years old, growing in flinty clay. It is unusual to see Pineau d'Aunis used like this. It is a very distinctive variety, normally reserved for rosé and unique to the Loire Valley. 

Sparkling wine, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.