We initially found it difficult to get from Bruges to Amiens as all the train services seemed to require a trip via Paris. By good luck, I found a transport service that enabled us to be picked up in Bruges and driven to Amiens yesterday. For a few extra Euro, we were able to build in some extra stops at Kortrijk in Belgium and Arras in France.
Kortrijk is on the river Leie, 40 km from Bruges of and is 25 km northeast of Lille. It originated from a Gallo-Roman town. In the Middle Ages, Kortrijk grew significantly thanks to the flax and wool industry with France and England and became one of the biggest and richest cities in Flanders. Throughout the 19th and 20th century, the flax industry flourished and remains important within the Belgian textile industry today. These towers are the the last remaining parts of the medieval city wall around the city.
The guidebook says that Kortrijk has a large number of medieval buildings but most of the houses that we could see in our short visit were a mixture of attractive old ones side-by-side with less attractive modern ones. This is because of damage that was caused in WW2 when buildings were destroyed by bombs and artillery. In fact, cities in this area had two bouts of destuction – one when first occupied by the Germans and secondly when liberated by the Americans.
Our second stop was in the northern city of Arras. During most of the First World War, Arras was about 10 kilometers away from the front line. A series of battles were fought around the city and nearby, including the Battle of Arras (1914), the Battle of Arras (1917) and the Second Battle of the Somme component of 1918’s Hundred Days Offensive.
In 1914, 3,000 German soldiers were barracked within the city and in the Arras citadel. Shortly after, the French repelled the German army troops, and trenches were dug in the nearby countryside. Even though it was behind the line, in October 1914, the Arras city hall burned, the belfry was destroyed, and so was the Arras Cathedral in 1915
In 1917, a series of medieval tunnels beneath the city were linked and greatly expanded by the New Zealand Tunnelling Company. These could hold 20,000 troops and became a decisive factor in the British forces holding the city particularly during that year’s Battle of Arras. By the end of World War I, the city was so heavily damaged that three quarters had to be rebuilt. The reconstruction was extremely costly, yet it proved to be a success and allowed the city to expand.
There are two beautiful squares in thge city. The smaller one is known as the Square of the Patriots. In 1940, Arras was occupied by the Germans and 240 suspected French Resistance members were executed in the square in front of the town hall.
The larger Market Square, at this time of year, is filled with a giant Christmas Market. We stopped there for a look and decided to have lunch from one of the little chalets that was cooking a potato and bacon mix with white wine and cheese. This was served in a baguette and was quite deliciouis.
We reached Amiens at about 3.30 pm. after driving through some interesting little villages and past fields where sugar beet was growing and being harvested.
It was only 3C in Amiens but it felt colder. Our hotel is right next to the station and is the moxt central one that I could find. It is a little more humble than the very pleasant hotel in which we stayed in Bruges. I had a quick scout around the neighbourhood after we unpacked and bought some things from the supermarket that is inside the station building.
We slept in this morning and were not up for breakfast until 9.00 am. Anyway, it was too cold to be out and about too early as the temperature was a cold -1C. It was clear and sunny – just cold. We found that the main walking street in town (the one that goes from the Railway Station to the Town Hall) had a very long Christmas Market. We explored it all found some interesting things to see and enjoyed some more mulled wine. The trees in this street havde all been pleached in a way that the branches now join together. They would provide a very picturesque vertical wall of leaves in the summer. We retreated back to the hotel around mid afternoon as the cold was getting to us even though we were wearing mutiple players of clothes.
Amiens is a pretty city with a nice streetscape and some lovely old buildings. It was bombed during WW1 but was always behind the front line. At that time, it was an important transport hub for the French and British armies.
One of the unique buildings here is the enormous gothic styled cathedral. It is larger than Notre Dame in Paris and possibly the largest Christan church in the world.
We spent some time looking through the church and found some plaques commemorating the lives of those lost in WW1 from the various countries that had soldiers here. (The strap across the Australian plaque is holding a statue on the same pillar from falling).
At night, there was a stunning light show at the Cathedral. It started with the lights creating an outline of the facade and then different features were picked out by the lights and transformed like a moving image. It was simply stunning. I took dozens of photos but here are just a few to illustrate some of the ways that lighting was used.
Finally, the lights lit up facade as if it had been ‘colourised’
One of the famous people who lived in Amiens was the author, Jules Verne. His house is only 500 metres from our hotel, and late in the afternoon, Cathy and I walked down to visit it. I think that he had wriiten most of his major works before moving to Amiens, but he was very active in local affairs and a councillor for many years. It was interesting to see the various rooms in the house – most of whiuch are furnished as they were when he lived here. He was meticuluos aboujt many parts of his life and his study contains 20,000 index cards that formed a catolgue of the books in his library.