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Anzac Day & Weekend 2008

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After an unexpected trip back home I had arrived back in London on the Thursday morning, ready to head off that afternoon to France for what I had been looking forward to for months - the 90th Anniversary Dawn Service at Villers-Bretonneux, France. The first ever dawn service to be held there in what was one of the turning points of World War 1. Where Australians retook the city and helped turn the tide on the Western Front on Aril 25, 1918.

I was damn tired after little sleep on the flight back over but with the nerves and emotions pumping me up I was ready and raring to get there.

I was doing a tour with The Fanatics tour group and met up at the Eurostar rail station in plenty of time then we wer on our way to Lille, France where our accommodation was to be for the trip. The group was to number 30 but were heading over on 2 different trains and we were a part of the first group of 15. A very wide mix of people that would soon form into a very good group that we were share this experience with.

Once there with room sorted we all headed off to get some food into the bellies and as people splintered off here and there 6 of us ended up deciding on a Thai restaurant where naturally no english was spoken. So it was fun times down in what wouldh've been an old wine cellar working out the french/thai menus and ordering what in the end was a pretty good meal. The company was also tops and would become the basis of a group within the group for the remainder of the trip. There was me, Branko, Ash, Lauren, Sue and Samantha.

Dinner over and off to a bar called 'The Australian Bar' which was duely decked out with crocodiles above the bar etc so sucked down a tinny of new to feel at home and it was off to bed to get the 2 hours sleep before time to get on the bus.

In a daze I get up at the 1.30am call of my alarm clock and slowly wander around getting myself ready. Down to the bus plonking myself down with Sarah (our cool young tour guide) a little on the panicky side with not everyone on the bus, the tour guide hasn't arrived and the young blokes that came with the second train just kicking on from the pub after they arrived in France was all a bit of a shambles...

Branko and I were laughing at this being a SNAFU moment and masking the fact pretty early that this could all go pretty pear shaped pretty quickly...then finally all on board and it was a while before managed to locate the tour guide but eventually got moving well and proper...as 4am was approaching the apprehension was starting to rise in my with having no idea where we were with still not much traffic indicating we were in the right path...but a light was shining in the distance and started seeing policeman so the breaths began coming much easier as the realisation hit that we had found the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial and had made it in plenty of time...

It's pretty hard to put the following 2-3 hours of the wait then the actual service into words...it was just awe inspiring to be a part of such a large and respectfull crowd, and to think of what had happened on that very soil on which we were standing 90 years earlier...it was a deeply moving and humbling experience to say the least and while my emotions stayed under the surface for most of the service, as soon as the French and Australian national anthems were played, there was no holding back the tears...what made it even more poignant for me was the people right beside us who sang both anthems word for word...
After the service was over I ran into Dave and Laine who had made it over for the service so it was good to see familiar smiling faces and catch up aswell...then we had a bit of time to look around the monument and cemetry. Once again very humbling to know that there are the names of 10,770 Australian serviceman on this monument who lost their lives in the battlefields of the Somme.

The next 2 days of visiting memorials, cemetry's, small museums, still intact trenches was a surreal experience of mind boggling proportions. While I thought I knew a bit about world wars and the casualty rates and the like before I went, actually being there and seing cemetry's with grave after grave around just about every corner we turned was something that I still found pretty hard to comprehend.

Here are some of the places and people that made the trip so memorable:

- Le Tommy lunch stop and museum - we stopped off at this little cafe for some much need food and this place was amazing...photos of the war covered the walls and there were stories of individuals with that of Hines being truly memorable.Anzac_250408__69_.jpgAnzac_250408__62_.jpg
- Thiepval Memorial - A massive memorial with the names of 72,000 fallen solidiers on it. The museum also showed footage of the era which once again was jaw dropping.Anzac_250408__119_.jpg
- In true Aussie spirit on the Anzac Day evening we commandered a corner of the Australian Bar and got a game of two-up going. Highlight was Branko getting fleeced by someone who gave him an aussie dollar instead of a euro for his winnings...and didn't we all know about it the next day!Anzac_250408__147_.jpg
- The Brooding Soldier - memorial to the first gas attack.Anzac_260408__20_.jpg
- Hill 60 - was a hill that changed hands 6 times throughout the war. While there a local Belgium man (who was a friend of our tour guide) started telling us some first hand stories of his house that we could see from the hill being blown away during WW2 and some other eye openning account from when he was a boy.
- Hill 62 trenches - trenches still intact from WW1 and a museum of unbelievable photos and weapons surviving from the period.Anzac_260408__99_.jpgAnzac_260408__104_.jpg
- Tyne Cot cemetry - the largest Commonwealth cemetry in the world on the Passchendaele battlefields site. Consisting of 12,000 graves of which more than 8,000 are unidentified.
- Dinner before the last post at Menin Gate - we got talking to a Vietnam veteran who was in the full WW1 uniform who had attended one of the services to honour his grandfather where they rode to the service on horseback.
- The 'Last Post' at Menin Gate - A truly fitting way to end the weekend where they still play the last post every day.

On the Sunday we had a wonderful day in just perfect weather of just meandering around the city of Lille before heading back to London via the Eurostar.

After one last drink at the champagne bar at the train station it was time to say farewell to my newfound friends that had shared such an amazing experience with me over the previous few days.

I gained so much more than I could ever have expected from the trip and it was an experience that will be etched in my mind forever!!!!!!

Posted by mintscd 05:47 Archived in France Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The Work/Travel Adventure Begins

China/Hong Kong Stopover on the way

-17 °C
View 2 Years of Living/Working Travelling 2008-2010 on mintscd's travel map.

Me and my sore head from the awesome Aussie day festivities the day before finally got on the move for the flight to Beijing from Sydney. Ended up at the airport well early and had to put up with some big group of way too overly excited youths (and I mean a group of 50 or so!) being rather loud and just plain annoying...yes showing my old age I know but I'm sure the after effects of the alcohol had plenty to do with it!

When a sreaming and crying baby across the aisle kicked off the flight I thought I was in for a flight from hell. But it improved and passed with no dramas so the journey had begun!!!

Arrived in Beijing pretty glad that had a Chinese map with directions to hotel on them otherwise would never had found the place. Quickly learned that if you want to get anywhere around the place then a Chinese map is essential as nobody I met ever spoke what I would call fluent Eglish.

So the first taxi ride to the hotel was an amazing experience of white knuckle fury I must say. I swear old mate must have been on a promise or something as the driving was ridiculous...(also soon to discover that this was pretty normal...)..

First full day in Beijing was spent walking around in the unbelievably cold -5 degree weather checking a few things out and getting the bearings of the city. It has to be said that the good old dunlop volleys aren't the best at keeping out the cold and as a result walking around with numb feet wasn't the fun part of the experience. Found the Forbidden City and Tiananman Square which was absolutely massive, but not that spectacular I thought apart from the history that surrounds it...
After a long cold tiring day the highlight came with dinner in the hotel restaurant...2 massive dishes of food, an awesome beer and some funny staff that were quite happy with themselves to be able to practice their 'hello's' and 'your welcome' on probably the only westener they had seen in a couple of month wich was pretty cool...

So over the next couple of days it was the Beijing Zoo and around the Olymic site. Beijing Zoo was good to get to see a few pandas as that was the main reason for going but was quite depressing otherwise.
RIMG0196.jpgJust a big concrete jungle that left me feeling a little queezy so didn't hang around long. And the trip around the Olympic site was pretty funny. It was a point on the map to mr cab driver exercise and off we went. As it was still under construction and no foot access it was a funny trip of mr cabbie pulling up at different vantage points around the outskirts motioning for me to jump up on bulding blocks or bridge railings to get some happy snaps...RIMG0247.jpgRIMG0230.jpgRIMG0232.jpgat first I was forever looking over my shoulder to make sure he didn't take off on me with bag and stuff still in the cab but he was a top bloke and did an awesome job...one of the highlights was him pulling up stumps in the middle lane of a 3 lane road for a minute or so and getting me to take a photo of an traditional style overhead bridge,RIMG0249.jpg all the while cars flying past beeping and carrying on not really impressed with my new tour guide...but I thought it was tops!!

So last but definitely not least on the Beijing agenda was the main reason for being there - to see the Great Wall of China...where chances of doing it were looking a little shaky with trying to arrange things with non-english speaking hotel staff and tour cancellations etc but I finally made it. Got picked up very early in the morning by Daisy the 'english' speaking tour guide (could only really understand 1 in 3 words so the day was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle as far as communication went!!). I got a bit worried when she looked at me a bit funny and said 'is that all you're going to wear'....my response 'yeh I'll be fine'...she looked even more amused...and I was soon to find out why...arriving in the shadows of one of the entrances to the Badaling section of the wall I was soon to find that the normal -5 degree temperatures were now coupled with a minus 10-15 degree wind chill factor...and yes I was most definitelyly under prepared...but all the wingeing of the weather soon disappeared once up and on the wall. The whole size/scope/length/terrain/views totally take your breath away. We spent about 2 hours walking a section of it and although I was basically numb all over with a camera that also had trouble coping with the weather by continually turning itself off, I swear I had a smile on my face the whole time...it was just totally amazing and can't be put into words. RIMG0304.jpgRIMG0270.jpgRIMG0303.jpgRIMG0307.jpg

After a funny little rollercoaster ride back down to the entrance which was a little surreal considering where we had just come from, RIMG0315.jpgwe were off to some additional 'tour extras' that I was not aware of when booking...these basically were 'let's try to rip off the tourist' stops that turned into quite funny experience considering of was with a group of 4 funny pommy blokes...the funniest being a 'traditional ancient chinese medicine college' where we were given a herbal tea that looked and ultimately tasted like urine then provided with a health diagnosis by holding our hands and looking at our poked out tongues. RIMG0321.jpgIt was amazing to find that all of us 25-30 year old westeners got a similar diagnosis of 'dehydration and liver problems' and promptly offered herbal remedies to the tune of about $100. Needless to say it brought about all kinds of mimicking and general banter afterwards...it was funny stuff!!

But all said it was a mind blowing day with the memories of The Great Wall of China imprinted on the brain forever!!!

Next sightseeing was off to Xian to see the Teracotta Warriors. Off the plane and once again some adventures getting to the hotel. Pretty interesting sites on the way with totally desolate snowed in areas, changing into industrial areas, changing into a picturesque walled city, changing into a totally modern main street bustling with western branded shops. Only in Xian for 2 nights and one full day so off to the hotel restaurant to get a hearty feed in before the sightseeing the next day. Got a bit more than I bargained for. Walk in to find what seemed to be a birthday celebration or the like with a group of 70-100 very drunk people. It was quite a humorous people watching exercise and looked like would be good fun to get involved in...which in some small way I did...there was a useless little partition that a quite inebriated youth manged to fall over and crash my table everywhere...managed to save half of my beer so that wasn't too bad....and I got about a thousand what I presume were 'sorry's' from all and sundry...later also had another young bloke come up to me and motion to the sculling game that their whole group was playng non stop and promptly started into his beer so I joined in, finished much before him, got a bit of a cheer from the curious onlookers...then he shuffled off to his table with me sort of hoping they were going to invite me into their drinking game with the prospect of free beer...but that never eventuated so it was off to bed for me.

The Teracotta Warriors the next day was another totally mind blowing day (and another freezing one at that!!)...got there pretty early and spent a good 3-4 hours just marvelling at the main pit of escavated warriors all uniquly created. Unbelievable to think these were undiscovered for so long and the pure luck at them being discovered at all with a local farmer doing so while digging a well. Probably wouldh've stayed for longer aswell if it hadn't been so damn cold. And was lucky to get one photo in at a time with camera basically shutting itself down whenever I turned it on!!!RIMG0372.jpg RIMG0397.jpg

Also called in at some natural hot springs on the way back to the hotel which were ancient baths for the ruling families of their day which were pretty impressive. It was possible to get in and enjoy the natural springs with a bath or shower but I didn't really fancy getting all nice and warm again to be promptly frozen as soon as getting out so gave that a miss.

So the next day it was off to Hong Kong with some unforgettable memories of China mainland. The Great Wall and Teracotta Warriors made it a truly memorable experience.

Hong Kong turned out to be a little more uneventful than had previously anticipated with the weather being quite ordinary and subsequently the views of the harbour from both the mainland and the island not being that crash hot. As it was the Chinese New Year aswell thought it was going to be a big party atmosphere but while all the tv reports were that it was, it didn't really seem like it to me. Basically ended up doing a truckload of walking and shopping (managing to add a larger suitcase to the travelling gear in the process) at bargain basement prices so was pretty happy with my efforts there. The Temple Street night markets were pretty tops I must say. Was also happy to get to Happy Valley Racecourse but was very disappointed that there were no races on due to the new year period. Looks like an awesome place to go to night races there so maybe next time...

So after just under 2 weeks in China/Hong Kong it was time to head off to London for the next part of the adventure...working in london...working...now that doesn't sound like too much fun after about a month of not doing any...

Posted by mintscd 12:19 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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