We decided to go on a wee adventure today; before we’re entirely stuck in the house for who-knows-how-long.
No doubt about it, Covid-19 is going to mess up our spring plans; just how much remains to be seen. We had a busy spring planned ahead of us — a weekend trip to London for the Harry Potter show, a trip to Canada for Easter, a weekend trip to Isle of Wight, grandparents visiting, diabetes camp, the Queen’s Garden Party, a trip to Ireland, and Sophie’s school residential trip the first week of June. We know some of these will be cancelled. Maybe even all of them, if the current predictions and timelines are right. That will suck, but what can you do. We are among billions of people being inconvenienced and it’s no one’s fault that this happened. All we can do is follow precautions, hope, and wait.
That being said, we’re currently in a country that has effectively kept business as usual… Just stay home if you’re sick. Kids are still in school and people still going to work. Yet the Canadian Forces has essentially been told to stand down, if you can. Go home, stay there, and stay healthy. So… There’s a lot of confusion still and a lot left to be seen. However we do know that we’re not allowed to travel/leave the country that we’re currently in (for now, for the next 3 weeks).
So with all the uncertainty and knowing there is a lot more coming (anticipating UK closures in the next few days or week) we decided to get out just one last time- choosing a place that is not crowded, open air, practice social distancing, lots of hand hygiene, and no restaurants (I personally believe restaurants to be one of the biggest vectors for airborne/droplet disease in this world and I won’t go near them right now).
So off to Wells we went. Wells is the smallest city in England.
That moniker comes about because any location with a cathedral is a city and Wells has a truly spectacular cathedral; however, the city is quite small. There are villages around that are larger than Wells, but they don’t have a cathedral so don’t get to call themselves a city. It’s all so specific!
The Wells Cathedral is a stunner. Dating back to the twelfth century, with a large choral wing, Bishop’s palace, and more.
After touring the cathedral, we took a walk around the small, historic city. There was a Saturday market going on, too.
After a toodle around Wells, seeing the cathedral, Bishop’s palace, market, and all, we drove off again. Cheddar Gorge isn’t far so we went there next. We had packed a picnic lunch in order to not have to go to a restaurant and practice social distancing. This also turned out to be super helpful because Sophie started going very low on the drive to Cheddar. It was nice that we were able to eat right away vs. waiting in a restaurant while she is feeling miserable.
Cheddar Gorge is England’s largest gorge. It has caves deep within the rock that they’ve been making cheddar cheese and aging it in for centuries. You can buy tickets to do things like climb stairs up the edge of this gorge, absail down, or tour the caves, but we wanted to do none of those.
We walked the main street of the gorge, popped into a few stores, sampled and purchased some cheddar, and then left.
And that was our day – our morning, really. Just a little nip out to see some historic and beautiful sites and home by 2pm. No interacting with anybody in the public, kept to our personal bubbles, and hopefully didn’t inadvertently bring Covid-19 home. But if we did, we’re ready to quarantine.
I hope everyone is ready and prepared but more so I hope everyone stays healthy and safe. Please stop the thinking that ‘if you’re healthy and young, it will be okay’ because some of us aren’t healthy and might not be okay through this. Every time you say that, it feels like you invalidate the life of the sick and elderly who are most at risk.
My post on Sicily – part 2 ended with us leaving our beloved agriturismo on 2 January. We settled our bill (for 3 nights in a 4.5 star B&B, 3 gourmet 4-course suppers for 3, plus breakfasts, only €600!) and hit the road for one last trek to another locale.
This time our destination was Siracusa, or Syracuse in English. Now, I grew up only an hour or so from Syracuse, New York and have always had a poor opinion of the city, so even though I clearly knew this was a very different city, my expectations were not high. It also didn’t help that the last city we had visited was the scummy Palermo.
Well we arrived to Siracusa early, due to Sicily’s excellent major highway system (if you’re on a secondary or tertiary road, I don’t have many good things to say for it, but the major highways are top notch). We had an AirBnB booked and weren’t scheduled to meet the host for another 2 hours, so we parked the car and decided to walk around the neighbourhood then grab lunch.
We gravitated toward the dominating and odd church spire a block away from us that Google maps told us was the Basilica of Madonna Della Lacrime. We had no idea what this meant, just another church name to us.
The entire building is made of concrete. It’s very 1960s and such an odd aesthetic, we couldn’t understand why this would be here in an ancient town. When we entered the building it felt like a bomb shelter or bunker. We learned there’s one part of the church downstairs (they call it the crypt but it’s a full church) and then the basilica upstairs (under that weird spire). Both feel weird and you’re still very aware you’re encased in concrete the whole time.
However, we finally learned the meaning and purpose of the church. Siracusa was the location of a Vatican-confirmed miracle in 1953 of the weeping Madonna. There have been reports the world-over of weeping Madonna pictures and statues but this is the only one that was inspected by scientists and clergy and confirmed to be valid.
This church was built with the sole purpose of housing the pieces related to this miracle. There is a reliquary holding some of the tears that were collected from her along with a handkerchief used to dry the face. The statue itself is still there too, just a small bust maybe 18 inches tall. Then there is a small museum dedicated to the miracle and in it is everything that people came and left at the statue while it was happening (it cried for a few days). There was everything from silver candlesticks (families wanted to leave their most valued belongings) to the canes and crutches of the healed.
Altogether it was just the coolest find, to stumble upon this odd church and this miracle story. This sort of surprise is one of my favourite parts of travelling.
It is said she healed many people and still does, so we lit some candles; but I walked away still needing my cane and Sophie still needs insulin so…. I guess we weren’t worthy.
After we had lunch we checked into our cute AirBnB. It was great- large, 2 bedrooms, and so clean. But they clearly hadn’t had the heat on in days or even weeks and it was maybe only 5° inside so it took quite a while to warm (we never turned the heaters off in our 48 hours there- even when it was 18° outside, because the houses are built to stay cool and really didn’t retain any heat well).
We stayed in an area where we knew we could park and was close to a couple ancient ruins but it wasn’t close to the historical centre of town, the island of Ortigia. We had read that you can’t drive on to Ortigia, it is blocked to traffic, but once we got there we learned that there are plenty of cars there (you just wouldn’t want to drive the middle, narrow streets unless you were a local). We wonder if they open it up to traffic in the off season and it is more closed in summer?
Either way, we didn’t want to drive it so took a taxi in to Ortigia for dinner and a walk around the area.
The next day, our full day in Siracusa, we walked from our BnB over to the Greek Theatre and ancient ruins park.
After walking in the hot sun around the amphitheatre, there is this beautiful shaded and oasis-like area below the limestone cliff in the archeological park. We walked around and explored the same caves and sites that the Greeks called home 2500 years ago.
The next day was our last day in Sicily. Our flight wasn’t until 7pm but we had to check out of our AirBnb by 10am. Luckily, by then we’d learned that you can, in fact, drive to Ortigia, so we did. We drove right to the tip of the island in hopes of visiting Castello Maniace. We had seen on previous days that it had short hours but we made sure to fit it into our schedule because it sounded like it had quite the history; over centuries occupied by Romans, Arabs, and Normans. It said it opened at 0830 and we arrived at 1030 to a locked gate. Eventually a man arrived and said he was the ticket agent and hadn’t started work yet, it will open at 1130. The Sicilians don’t seem to have an overwhelmingly robust work ethic.
So we ambled through Ortigia, our first time seeing it in the daylight. We wanted to make our way to the market, as our taxi driver (who we’d had 3 times and liked very much) suggested it was the best place to lunch.
After lunch we made our way back to the castle and it was finally open. However, it was a bit of a let down. We could tell they’d tried to restore it. According to them, they’d been doing various restoration phases since the 1970s, but we still felt like there wasn’t a lot of information, there was no staff (only the one ticket-man who showed up late) and not a lot of access to most parts of the castle. There sure were beautiful views of the water and town, though. And seeing as it was only 4€ to get in, I guess we got what we paid for.
When we were done at the castle we packed into the car and hit the road. We had about a 40-minute drive to the airport in Catania, had to return our rental car then brave airport security in a language we didn’t speak. We had to beg for a security agent who knew enough English for us to explain that these 2 clear bags are medical equipment and cannot go through x-ray. They still wanted to put it through! I had about 5 words written out in Italian – diabetic, insulin, medical equipment, no x-ray, and medicine. Eventually they relented and hand-inspected our diabetic gear. For this reason though, is why I always keep it in clear Ziploc bags, separate from all other luggage/gear, and have the choice words translated ahead of time– also why we always give ourselves even more extra time to get through security (though in reality, I think we’re always through faster because we don’t have to wait in the general line).
Now we’re home safe and sound. Sicily was an awesome trip but we also learned some things to take forward in future trips:
-They don’t need to be so long. In Canada where flights cost so much and are usually the biggest chunk of your travel budget, we often think we need to prolong the trip to ‘make it worth it’. We’ve realised we need to get out of this mindspace here in Europe where flights are much cheaper and we’re travelling more. Three of us together 24/7 gets exhausting and we get on each others’ nerves. Maybe a city or trip can be more enjoyed in 4 days rather than extended to multiple cities and weeks, and we won’t come home so exhausted and ‘over it’ all.
-Don’t be shy with the insulin. When travelling and unsure of the carb counts, we’re learning to be a bit more vigorous and gutsy with the insulin dosing. In Paris we were conservative with counts and dosing like we were at home and she was almost always very high. In Sicily, we gave large doses and it worked. She started out the trip sick with a cold and on very high doses just because of that, and we realised it was working. We won’t be so shy next time that we’re dealing with unknown or foreign foods.
-Unless we have to, don’t take the evening flight home. We took the 8pm flight home from Paris because we thought this would give us an extra day in Paris without having to pay for a hotel. This time the only flight to Bristol was at 7pm. We got home around 11pm, exhausted. I decided that if we can swing it, we’re taking earlier flights from now on. I just hate the feeling of coming home all groggy and falling asleep immediately. When I wake up there’s no food in the house and still so much work to do and bags to unpack, etc.
Overall, Sicily is an amazing place to visit. There is so much to see an do. It is steeped in history and culture. The food is out of this world. Things I would suggest are must-dos in any trip to Sicily:
-Go off the beaten path and enjoy an agriturismo. Eat the food!!! Live like a local (a very well-taken-care-of local).
-It’s very touristy but there’s a reason for it, go to Taormina! It’s the prettiest place in the world. It’s the only place in Sicily I saw regular street janitorial staff keeping the town clean, and the restaurants were some of the best we encountered. It’s not the cheapest in Sicily, it’s not the quietest, but it is the prettiest.
-Make sure to catch the Greek ruins at Agrigento. Especially if you’ve never been to Greece/won’t make it any time soon. Sometimes just seeing an ancient city around you reduced to bricks, the people all long gone, helps put your own life into perspective.
To pick up where I left off in part 1, we were just leaving Taormina (the world’s prettiest town).
We had a long drive from Taormina right across Sicily to our next stop in Palermo (3+ hours), so we decided to break it up with a small side trip to the Canadian War Cemetery in Agira.
While back in Catania, we had a visit to the Sicilian WWII museum. It concentrated on the Allies’ Operation Husky (the invasion and taking of Sicily) and the bombing of Sicilian towns. It was a great museum but less than one-third of the exhibits and displays had English translations. We got the gist and it was very humbling to see it from the Sicilians’ point-of-view: they appreciated the Allies helping them break their ties with Hitler, but they took heavy bombing and casualties, too. For a few weeks, we Canadians were ‘the bad guys’.
However, once the Allies won the island, the Sicilians were then glad to see the Nazis gone and didn’t mind having the Allies around for the next couple years of the war.
So now while we were driving across the island, we took the bumpy and windy 15km detour to the beautifully situated Agira War Cemetery. Agira was the Canadians’ largest battle and where they took the heaviest casualties. There are 490 men buried here, on a hill overlooking valleys, a lake, and with the mountain town of Agira on the horizon. We took our time to pay our respects.
We then continued on to Palermo but now sort of wish we hadn’t. Every trip has a low point, and Palermo was ours. Palermo is Sicily’s largest city and the one that tour guides like Rick Steves say not to miss… But there were little redeeming qualities in the city for us. It didn’t help that it was raining and cold; a Sunday, so a lot was closed or inaccessible; and we had just come from the world’s prettiest town, so our standards were set high.
Palermo was full of garbage, everywhere in the streets, litter. And shit, literally. Excuse my language, but there’s no way to delicately describe the heaps of smelly dog shit on the side of the road. I’m not talking about the little piles here and there like you encounter in Paris and most other European cities; but we passed one unpaved part of the sidewalk where a tree was growing, about 2m x 1m of no pavement (dirt, or ‘grassy’ area) and it was overflowing with dog poop. If someone tried to scoop it all, it would be 3 big black Hefty bags full, and the stench was utterly overwhelming.
We were down to our last pairs of socks and underwear but couldn’t get our clothes washed because laundromats don’t open on Sundays and our hotel didn’t accept laundry on a Sunday. We were going to do a bus tour but they barely ran on Sundays (only 2 times, not all day) and wouldn’t be worth the cost, we took cabs instead (and one cabbie ripped us off). Restaurants were hard to find that served food, not just drinks; and in the end when we got in the car to leave, our gas seemed awfully low- we think it was siphoned off!
So we didn’t love Palermo, but we got around and saw some of the bigger sites, even if just from the outside. The one place that was open and we could actually go in was the Capuchin Catacombs that Sophie read about in her kids’ Atlas Obscura (a great book for any kid interested in geography and/or seeing the world!) and wanted to see. It certainly was interesting to see but of course we couldn’t take any photos inside and we respected this rule (though again, it seems like we’re the only tourists who know how to respect things like religion and the dead).
However, please enjoy some other photos of Palermo landmarks from the outside.
Those 3 photos are about the only redeeming sights and parts of Palermo I can show. We left by 9am on our check-out day and didn’t look back. The drive south-east was perilous, hilly, and full of switch-back, winding bends; but we knew we were going in the right direction to leave Palermo in our rear-view when a rainbow came out in the Sicilian countryside.
Our next stop was the tourist destination, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. These are Greek temple ruins built in 400-200BC on a high mountain ridge with expansive views of the valley below and the sea beyond.
It’s a long walk along the ridge and you spend a few hours there. When we started it was windy but the sun was warm. About 2/3 through, it clouded over and started to rain and just became miserable. I didn’t care then how ancient or special it all was, I couldn’t feel my feet, I could hardly walk, I just wanted to get to an exit and get out!!!
After our time in Agrigento we got back on the windy road and headed to Modica, where our agriturismo B&B (farm-stay) was just outside of.
We stayed at the Nacalino Agriturismo which simply blew us away. It is a beautiful little olive oil farm, they also grow their own vegetables and fruit (there’s a lemon tree in the courtyard) organically. Our host made us a 4-course Sicilian dinner every night with fresh, local produce. Things that didn’t come from their farm came from the neighbouring farms (there were a lot of cows around, and the next farm over looked to specialise in ricotta and mozzarella). Everything was so fresh, so authentic, and so tasty.
The grounds were so lovely as well. There were friendly cats and an old golden labrador that Sophie and I liked to cuddle. We liked to walk around and explore. We had full use of the common rooms with fireplace, and we could finally get our laundry done (in fact, Tina, the proprietor, did it all for us, for free!!). I’m sure the place would be really stunning to use in the summer with the outdoor pool under the palm trees. However, being there when the pool is closed also means we get the off-season pricing.
Breakfast was a buffet just as impressive as our dinners. Fresh-made cappuccinos, oodles of home-made pastries, freshly squeezed juice, local meats and cheeses, and everything else one gets at breakfast buffets.
The food is delicious, however breakfast buffets are a ridiculous amount of work for a type-1 diabetic. The breakfast she has pictured above looks great, then we calculated it to be about 120g of carbs. Her first bolus was 17 units of insulin (at home on a regular day she usually doesn’t go over 35 units for her entire daily dose!). This was only her first pass of the buffet. I think she went over 200-250g of carbs by the time she was done breakfast. And why not, she’s in Italy, enjoy! (Just bring extra insulin!)
On New Year’s Eve day, we headed in to the old town of Modica, a UNESCO world heritage site. It was full of Baroque architecture built into the cliffsides of a gorge down to a valley. The churches were like the others we’ve seen in Sicily, so beautiful from the outside then white, painted, and overdone inside.
We stayed at Nacalino Agriturismo for 3 nights, our longest stay in Sicily. We knew there wouldn’t be much open on New Year’s Day and we’d been tired, so we happily took a day to rest and stay around our room and the estate. We took walks, we read, played games, watched TV, and Sophie and I did a little photo shoot. Here’s one photo but you can see a carousel of 7 in my Instagram links below this post:
We were sad to leave the agriturismo, we so enjoyed our stay, but it was time to move on east to Siracusa, which I’ll outline in Part 3.
The Christmas market is an outdoor market of stalls selling goods and food, often at nighttime, during the weeks of Advent, and originating in Germany. Their popularity has spread all over Europe and even into North America in recent years (heck, even Ottawa started a wee one this year!)
While we certainly plan to make it to a German Christmas market at some point in our 3 years here, we knew it wouldn’t be this year. However, there are many Christmas markets happening not far from us that we thought we’d check out this season.
Bath is only about 15 miles from Bristol, but as things are in England, it’s a 45 minute car ride or a 45-60 minute train ride. We opted for the train because it’s cheap (£13 round trip for all 3 of us) and then we wouldn’t need to search for parking.
However, we were warned – – – being the most popular market in the country means it’s busy! We originally thought we’d go in the evening, but were told we’d hardly be able to move then, and there’s too many drunk people around. So we changed our plans and decided to go at opening. Good thing, too, because when we left 3 hours later at 1pm, we could hardly move! (We heard that brawls broke out on later trains because they were so packed and busy… so we’ll stick with going early!)
So, we may have missed the ambience of the evening market and the lights, but as none of us like a crowd, we were very happy with our choice. We spent a whack-load of money at the stalls buying gifts and treats for others and ourselves. We enjoyed sampling cheeses, charcuteries, and spreads at many stalls, and drinking thick hot cocoa and mulled wine as we ambled around.
Overall we just loved the Bath Market. It was easy to get to, a fun morning out shopping, and a feast for the senses.
The next market we went to was a few days later and a bit more local. Okay, a lot more local. The Henleaze Christmas Festival is a one-night affair a few blocks away from us. We live right on the edge of Henleaze neighbourhood in Bristol, and we really love the Henleaze high street to do our shopping and errands.
Apparently this was the 12th year this festival has been running, and it’s a market of about 30 stalls and 3 blocks long. It was a Wednesday night, so we had to pick Sophie up from gymnastics class at school (2 blocks away) and scuttle over there where it was already fully underway.
Sophie said she saw every kid in her class except 2. We enjoyed the stalls and the music, there were school choirs and children’s entertainers. We didn’t buy much at all because we had just spent so much in Bath, and there really wasn’t anything new. I was a little disappointed, as I would have waited for this festival and bought more locally had I known. Well, next year.
We were able to grab dinner at a BBQ stall, get give-aways at local traders (Sophie got a big box of 6 full-sized Cadbury bars at a law office!), and enjoy the whole festival with local cheer. Every time we move, we love being able to find these great things to be proud of in our new home town/ neighbourhood area.
The third market we went to wasn’t much- it was the smallest yet. We stopped in at the Christmas Festival at Sophie’s school on Saturday afternoon. I don’t have photos to show due to privacy for all the children present. But I was very impressed with the school’s ability to put on a festival with crafts, games, music, food, stalls, raffles, and prizes. Most importantly– and this is something so important I think we need to bring it to all Canadian school festivals and parties — there was mulled wine. Yes… to get through a couple hours at a junior school function with children running amok everywhere, I was able to purchase a warm cuppa mulled wine. This. Is. Just. Civilised. Every school Christmas concert really needs to have a cash bar – they’d make a mint for the school!!!! And before you get your panties in a knot, NO, I’m not suggesting anyone get drunk around children. Hell, even put a one-glass maximum if you want. But that one glass really helps a parent get through the screaming children/the children singing off key/the waiting for the 400 children that aren’t yours to finish their part so you can watch your own kid for 2 minutes/the putting up with overzealous parents. Sure, maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but I’m okay with that. School events need wine. This was the best school event I’ve ever been to.
I’m sorry, I wouldn’t have mentioned the last market, because I didn’t have photos, and it was so small, but it really needed a shout out, just for the wine.
Well we can’t wait until next year or heck- maybe even the following year, when we can make it to Germany for a Christmas market. Now that we know how fun they are and have had a small taste, we will definitely be putting this on our short list and be aiming to get there!
As I said in my last post, Normandy was amazing but our Remembrance Day was just overwhelmingly beautiful, I had to give it its own post.
We checked out of our lovely hotel and left Bayeux in mid-morning. We expected to have a bit of time on our hands and to take things slowly. The Remembrance ceremony wasn’t until 1500h at Juno Beach.
We headed to Bény-sur-Mer, where the Canadian war cemetery is. There are many Canadian war cemeteries across Europe, but this is one of the biggest and the one associated with D-Day.
Unlike the American cemetery, we could walk these rows. We spent an hour or so here, reading the names and the epitaphs on the stones.
It meant so much to be here today, and to be able to reflect. I’m sure it would also feel just as heavy on June 6. I know it is somber on any day of the year, but I’m just saying that today felt different.
One thing in particular that was sad to see, for us, was the number of graves that had no adornment- no flowers and nothing left from visitors. I suppose we can’t expect them all to, but it felt sort of empty.
As we were leaving, I saw a family come in. They had a bouquet with them and were wearing Canadian poppies. I saw them head to a specific grave. They had their quiet moment and laid the flowers. Then they were taking photos of them with it. They were clearly a Canadian family who had travelled to be here and to see this grave. So I headed over to offer to take a photo of all 4 of them together with the grave. It turns out they were from BC and it was the man’s uncle’s grave. They were planning to head to Juno Beach later on as well. We were happy to have met another Canadian family doing their remembering.
Next, we headed on to the Juno Beach Centre. We planned to tour the museum for a while and have a picnic lunch before the ceremony.
The centre is beautiful, with so much information and history included. If you have a loved one who was a part of a Canadian regiment in WWII, especially in Normandy, then I highly recommend you check it out sometime.
As I’ve mentioned (many times), my grandfather was in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1CPB) and fought in Normandy. Knowing this, I of course gravitated to learning all I could about this elite unit.
(My paternal grandfather was also in WWII, an RCAF aerial photographer. However, I never had the pleasure of meeting him and forging a bond. Also, he was never stationed in Normandy. Though there was a small section about our military in Italy, where he was, and I found it fascinating).
There was one great interactive computer exhibit that I was playing with. It was a large touch-screen wherein you could select any Canadian regiment that was in Normandy and then be lead through a slideshow of their movements through the area after landing. I selected the 1CPB and it started with them helping liberate Pegasus Bridge and fend off the Nazis for many days to keep it. With my knowledge of my grandfather’s battle history and when he entered Normandy, it was at about slide 8 or 9 of about 25. The unit had a week off starting 17 June 1944 and got reinforcements (that’s my Papa!). Throughout this slideshow, there are a few photos and snapshots, not many- mostly of the men in repose or relaxing. About halfway through, this large close-up photo pops up:
It looked somewhat familiar. I read the caption. And then I burst into tears. My Papa spent our whole lives telling us about Andy. Andy was his best friend. They went through training together and then entered battle together.
Andy died in Operation Varsity in the Battle of the Bulge on March 24, 1945.
Papa never forgot. He never let us forget, either. Every year when Papa attended a Remembrance Day ceremony, we knew he was thinking of Andy.
And here Andy was staring up at me at our nation’s WWII memorial museum in France.
I couldn’t help but feel Papa with me. I know how pleased he would be to know that of all the 1CPB soldiers’ photos to be had, Juno Beach Centre shows Andy’s. He will not be forgotten.
After I dried my tears from that moment, we continued on. Then I came across another 1CPB exhibit talking about who they were and what they did and there was a uniform jacket in it. I glanced to the side and saw it was the jacket of one Sid Pass, an old buddy of my Papa’s. They were in the war together then lived in the same city and were friends for many years until Sid died just a few years before Papa. His granddaughter contacted me when Papa died and expressed her condolences. I just feel it’s such a small world sometimes. It certainly was a small 1CPB!
After we toured the museum and had our picnic lunch, it was time to get ready for the ceremony. Easy enough for Sophie and me… A lot more work for Eric. He is supposed to be in full dress uniform for these ceremonies, even just as an attendee.
Before the ceremony, everyone was milling about in the lobby. This also became a bit of a meet and greet. The people present were a mix of French locals and Canadians. Of course with Eric in uniform, it opened a lot of conversations. Some other Canadians came and said hi, and a few French wanted to hi too. One little old lady (and I mean little!) came and told Eric that her father fought with the French Resistance and was awarded a Commander of the French Legion of Honour. Eric told her (as this conversation was all in French) that my grandfather was a Knight of the Legion of Honour because he was a Canadian who fought in Normandy. Oh! She got so excited! She started showing me the papers that showed who her father was and his medal (a photo of it). I showed her photos of my Papa with his medal and him in the war. She cried. She insisted on a photo together (as I had my phone out showing her photos, she told me to take a photo now!).
We hugged and kissed and she even gave me her address! Haha. I’ll send her a nice card. She was so sweet.
Then it was time to start the ceremony. There was a large turnout, including the local mayor and Senator, Chief of Police, and other important locals. They all had wreaths to lay before the ceremony could start inside. Inside there was a local band and bagpiper, too.
The ceremony was beautiful, though I only understood half of it. That’s ok, I got the jist.
Eric was asked to read the Act of Remembrance in English. He did, rather well.
During the ceremony, a woman from Ottawa had a small presentation explaining a project she’s been working on called ‘Flags2Bény’. She explained that on her first trip to Juno Beach, she was so touched by everything that she wanted to find a way to spread the word more at home in Canada. One thing she did was get a bridge near the airport in Ottawa renamed Juno Bridge. She also got schoolchildren to sign messages of thanks on over 2000 Canadian flags and brought them here to Juno today. She asked us to each take some flags and go to the Canadian war cemetery after the ceremony and put them on a few graves.
Well, we went to her after and snagged the last few flags she had! She was worried people wouldn’t participate but instead more people wanted to help than she had flags!! This was French locals and the Canadians alike all wanting to help and honour our dead.
We also then met an amazing, sweet woman who said she was a local girl in the area when the Canadians landed on D-Day and liberated the town. She said she was 11 years old and remembers being friends with the soldiers. Amazing! Eric pointed out that our daughter is 11 now, the same age this woman was on D-Day. We got a photo with her.
I love that 75 years later, she still comes to the Canadian Armistice Day ceremonies to say thanks. (And wanted to plant some flags at the cemetery, as well!).
After the ceremony, they did something so very dignified, so very French- they served delicate pastries and sparkling cider (the cider the region is known for).
Then we went outside to pay our own, private respects. We were asked if we wanted to lay a wreath but I explained that no, thank you, we had different plans.
You see, when my Papa died in March, there was a beautiful flower arrangement atop his casket with a few red poppies in it. The poppies were artificial because the florist couldn’t exactly get real poppies in March in Canada. Family kept those poppies. I have two, and plans to take them to the places I promised Papa we’d go when I last spoke to him.
Today I had one of those poppies and we were laying it at the Juno Beach memorial instead of a wreath. We didn’t want to lay it at the big wreath laying ceremony because it was too important, and people wouldn’t understand the significance of this tiny, fake poppy that looked a little worse for wear after travelling about a 13,000km trip (Brantford to Victoria to Bristol to Normandy).
But it got here, and we laid it in Papa’s memory.
Then we took a few other photos. Eric was here for Remembrance Day in 2006 so we took a photo so we could compare, haha.
Thirteen years ago, that uniform was barely broken in!
Then because there were a few new things since 2006, including a Naval memorial, more photos:
However, do you think we managed to get a photo of the 3 of us while he was in uniform, or during this special day? I thought of it while I was waiting for him to change into his civi clothes. Sigh. And there were so many people around that we ‘knew’ by then that we could ask, too. But we just never thought of it, and forgot. Oh well, my hair was a disaster from the gale outside so I probably wouldn’t have liked any photo we got anyway.
Then we went back to the war cemetery to fulfill our promise to plant the flags on the graves. When we had gone earlier in the day, we were the only car in the parking lot. This time when we pulled up, there were a dozen cars or so! Wonderful!
When we got to the cemetery, we saw that plenty of people had already been and had and were still planting their flags. One older man in a retiree’s Legion uniform made sure to stand up and salute with every single flag he placed, it was touching.
Flags-2-Bény was a success! The cemetery looked much more loved afterwards and more importantly, the graves were each individually respected.
They were still planting a few flags by the time we left but we had to hit the road.
It’s been the most amazing day of reflection, introduction, pride, and enlightenment. We all loved our day and will never forget it.