21 October, Ibis Hotel, Gentilly, Paris
Except for some early confusion in Nuremburg caused by our train arriving at the assigned platform empty, when it was a through train from Munich, all went fairly smoothly. Seems there was some diversion of trains that resulted in our train being replaced by one originating in Nuremburg. It is interesting that the confusion on the platform was equally shared by German speakers and the rest of us. We put it down to the fact that nobody can understand railway announcements, even when given in their own language.
Our arrival station was Gare de l’Est, a very busy station at the best of times, but it was really hectic as we arrived. We had researched the infamous Paris Metro ticket machines and were ready for all eventualities, except for the fact that their credit card service wasn’t functioning. Forced now to stand in a queue at the only service window, we encountered the usual frustrations, with those ahead of us taking forever to complete a simple transaction. Sounds a lot like old folks whinging, but, really, how hard is it to know what you want before you get to the window? We can even do it in circumstances where we don’t speak the language. For us, the only delay was 10 seconds because the service lady didn’t hit the right key for us to pay by card. We were done and dusted inside 60 seconds.
Delayed by our trials at the station, we had to find our hotel in the dark. The Ibis Gentilly is right on the edge of central Paris, perhaps better described as “in the sticks”. Those who have driven in Paris will know the Peripherique, Paris’ Ring Road. We are just outside it. In fact it is just outside our window, at eye level. We wandered about for a while in dark and somewhat unsafe streets, but finally found the Ibis. We have stayed at a few Ibis hotels in big cities and they have been, uniformly, what we’d paid for. In Paris the rule holds, with clean, small rooms, limited facilities reasonable service and very average locations.
Our visit to Paris had nothing to do with seeing the sights. We were here to complete our pilgrimage to the locations visited by William Armstrong during his leave in June 1918, just before he was killed at Mont St Quentin. We were also here to find the grave of Janita’s grandmother’s cousin, Thomas Chadwick, who was shot down over Paris in September 1943.
With the help of the sexton at Clichy cemetery, we were able to find the Commonwealth War Graves section and following a stone by stone search, found Thomas’ grave. He was an Airforce sergeant, but nearby were Canadian and British graves recording the same date. Thomas, the Canadians and the British must have been operating as a composite crew.
The shooting down of Thomas Chadwick’s bomber in September 1943 was probably a notable event at the time. The plane crashed in flames on the edge of a square that today is the back entry to the Louvre. There is a plaque remembering the event on a building just around the corner from the square.
We know from other family who have visited Paris and sought out memorials to Thomas Chadwick, that there is also a plaque in the church of Notre Dame des Victoires, recording the incident. We found the church, but on entering were confronted by memorial plaques covering almost every available surface, 32000 in total. We spent quite some time searching, but to no avail.
A big part of William Armstrong’s leave in Paris was devoted to entertainment. He visited the Olympia Theatre and the Folies Bergere. Today we found both venues, though they have probably changed a lot since 1918.
We had decided not to play tourist in Paris, but there was one museum that was a must for us, the Musee D’Orsay, home to one of the world’s best collections of 19th and early 20th century art. Even though one of the main galleries was being renovated, we still had our fill of our usual favourites, Monet, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, Pissarro, Cezanne and Renoir, enough to keep us occupied for a couple of hours.
26 October, Home
A long couple of days’ journey home via Guangzhou has left us a little weary and jet-lagged. We had a 15 hour stopover in Guangzhou, made easier by the airline-provided accommodation in the Airport Hotel. Aside from some serious delays in getting a temporary visa authorised and confusion caused by some new immigration processes, our stay in Guangzhou went well. We were able to get a good five or six hours sleep. However, having arrived at 6:00 am, our sleep was during the day, adding to body time clock confusion that will probably take us a few days to recalibrate.
This trip was our first long trip to Europe in a decade. We have generally used motorhomes to get about in the past, but Europe has just become too crowded to allow for that style of travel any more. We opted for a few, week-long stays in small towns and villages within striking distance of larger cities, combined with train and bus journeys through the Balkans and northern Italy. Our accommodation was predominantly in Airbnb apartments, with the odd hotel stay here and there, mainly just before or after flights. We found driving into cities in both the UK and Germany fairly easy to manage. Parking was generally cheap or even free and Park and Ride facilities, where they were available, took a lot of the hassle out of travelling into larger cities.
Car hire in Europe and the UK is very cheap in comparison to Australian rates. Fuel prices are lot higher, but using small efficient vehicles helped us limit these costs on our budget. We found bus travel extremely cheap, but the usual delays associated with bus travel did cause us some minor difficulties. Train travel was a little more reliable, but far more expensive.
We are planning a return trip to Europe early next year via Southern Africa. Given our experiences on this trip, we will probably hire cars and settle ourselves in country towns again.