Arrive in France
28 Sept 2008 to 1 Oct 2008

We made the crossing OK across the English Channel, and they let us in France too (something about the quarter final game in the last two World Cups helped I think). Crossing was very efficient, Dover handles around 50,000 people and 5,000 trucks per day and the ferry boats are constantly coming and going.

Here we are in the shadow of the white cliffs of Dover awaiting boarding
Final look back at Dover castle from the ferry. Note the haze - is there ever a clear day in England?
Arriving at Calais, very efficient - just drive off (remembering of course to keep to the right!) Hmmm, not any clearer this side of the ditch either. Explains why Europeans think NZ scenery is so beautiful - its because you can see it!
First stop Dunkirk on way to Ypres. Here is a view of the harbour basin
On to Ypres in Belgium (Belgium, by the way, was closed - it was Sunday). Visited the Tyne Cot Cemetery - the largest Commonwealth Cemetery in the world where 12,000 bodies are buried - victims of the First World War especially in the surrounding battlefields of Passchendale
Rows upon rows of headstones, with over 85% unnamed, some could not even identify what nationality. Tens of thousands died during a 100 day offensive which gained barely 8 kilometres
A shameful waste of humanity, and a surprisingly high percentage of New Zealand and Australian troops. As well as the headstones which marked actual graves, the surrounding wall was inscribed with the names of those missing, presumed killed, as their bodies were never recovered.
After the visit to Tyne Cot, we were running short of time, so stopped over at Amiens for the night. The next day we visited the Chateau Vaux le Vicomte south of Paris
Once the home to Nicolas Fauchet - Finance Minister to Louis XIV in the seventeeth century. Here is a view of the gardens from the Chateau
The home is still basically original, with very little restoration work and is showing its almost 400 year age! Still impressive - too impressive as when Fauchet held the house warming party inviting Louis XIV the King, the King was so jealous Fauchet was jailed on drummed up charges, the Chateau was looted of all the furnishings and the creators of the Chateau and gardens hired by Louis XIV to create Versailles
A lot of the same styling is repeated at Versailles, excepton a much, much grander scale. In retrospect we preferred Vaux le Vicomte over Versailles - Versailles was just too much! And too touristie - see below
We booked in for two nights at Saclay,to use as our base to explore Chateau Versaille - with over 85 hectares of garden alone, we needed all day! It was bitterly cold in the morning too, but got better later on.
The extravagance of the place was astounding - no wonder the French revolted!
Sadly, many of the rooms had some bizzare contemporary art displays which detracted from the atmosphere of Versailles in the 17th Century (see right for an example). There was even a porcelin model of Michael Jackson and Bubbles in the Queen's Chamber - absurd!
The rooms constantly amazed us - here is the Hall of Mirrors. There was just so much to take in - the walls, ceilings, paintings, sculptures and furnishings. Note also the crowds. We arrived early, and a week day, imagine at the height of summer and on the weekend
The gardens were awesome, clearly eclipsing Vaux le Vicomte including a Grand Canal over 1 kilometre long. This view is back to the Chateau over the main Apollo fountain.
There were also two "smaller" palaces on the estate, used by Marie Antoinette, when the main Chateau was "...getting to much and she wanted to escape to the country...!"
And no Queen's Palace is complete without a Temple of Love - it took us six attempts to get this shot and still couldn't avoid an onlooking tourist!
Finally a look down the gardens with the Grand Canal and still more gardens as far as the eye could see. Astounding.
Wed 1st October saw us travel a short 20 odd kms to Paris and our apartment. The view is breathtaking - from the Sacre Couer to the left, through to the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower in front of us. Even a small peek of the Seine to the right.
This evening we cooked chicken fajitas, enjoyed a bottle of Bordeaux (EUR3.00) and watched the lights come on - the Eiffel Tower twinkles for 5 minutes every hour, mind blowing. Tomorrow - we explore Paris!