Nom de Plumage

July 24, 2013

The Somme Valley

Filed under: Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 3:57 pm
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Allow me to rewind my travel clock, to a time last September, sitting on a train bound for Zürich and having a wonderful conversation with a French woman. Our two hours of conversation quickly set the tone of friendship and procured me an offer to visit this woman at her home in the Somme Valley at a later date. In all honesty, I was not sure about this and felt somewhat uncomfortable, but to pass up an opportunity to visit such a historic place, could not be passed up lightly. Fast forward the months and this time I am sitting on a train bound for Amiens and the French woman’s home. You must excuse my lack of personal information in this part of my travels for reasons of discord and pain, which came to the surface a few days later and one that I wish I could forget. But the Somme is a dream come true and a majestic part of the world, that I could not pass these few days by without a recording of what transpired. So, the French woman’s name thus far, I will not mention.

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She was a few minutes late to pick me up from the train station and it was lovely to see her again after many months. We drove back to her home; a beautiful two hundred year old brick home in the heart of the Picardy valley. It was nice to have the opportunity once again to live in a home, with a private room, a bathroom with privacy, an open fire and home cooked meals. True to form, lunch was waiting for me after I settled into my room and it was very French and very delicious; green salad for starter, mashed potato with pan-fried duck breast in a cream sauce, cheese platter and a pithivier for dessert. We caught up with each other’s lives and at times I felt like I was treading on egg shells in fear of offending her. After lunch, we went for a drive to the picturesque valley and a place rich in history.

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In another moment in time, these marshlands were nothing but vast expanse of mud, the stench of decaying bodies littered the land and the deafening sounds of bombs and guns, permeated the surrounding area. Death and horror shaped and transformed this valley and yet here I stand, almost one hundred years later, to a place of utter beauty and serenity. I really had no idea what to expect, for certainly the many photo’s and footage of the war showed only destruction. What lays before me is a place of colour of the vast flat valley, the mirror calmness of the water that is everywhere and the historic village and ancient ruins that dot the hills. The Bay of Somme is a sea that is ruled by the tide and when we arrived, the sea had all but disappeared and wet sand lay exposed to the winter sunset.

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The village is part modern and part historic. The modern part caters to the tourists and the locals and feels very much like a seaside village. The narrow main road through the town is peaceful and very pretty. But for me, it is the historic part that I loved the most. The old uneven stone structures that have survived the war somehow, dot the valley and the lush greenery of the hills and gardens bring life and renewal back to a place once covered in death. Whatever I was expecting, it certainly wasn’t this. We walked over the hills and along the bay. The day was almost over, but not before a splendid marriage of colour over the sea and marshlands as the sun was going down. I stood transfixed and camera happy watching the brilliant pinks and blue of the sky.

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We arrived home late and she prepared a very unusual dinner that consisted of zucchini, onion, aubergine, mashed potato and cheese. I have to admit, different but tasty. Afterwards, I washed the dishes and we made plans for tomorrow. I guess this was the moment when things started to go pear-shaped because when she invited me to her home, it was on the precursor of her showing me around the Somme and the War sites. She either had forgotten or did not want to go and so I had to remind her of my purpose for my visit. She became defensive towards me and made me feel guilty about my family life, my freedom and my travel experience. I knew then, that my three-day visit would be harder than I had anticipated.



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