Day 7 finds us in the port of Boulogne, which until the arrival of the Channel Tunnel was a busy passenger port with regular ferry arrivals from Dover. Now its main use is that of a fishing port from where the catch is exported all over France and beyond.
Boarding the coaches we head north through the rolling hills green hills of Northern France. It is difficult to imagine that 70 years ago this peaceful countryside being a battlefield. A little over 100 kilometres north of Boulogne is the French National War Cemetery of Notre Dame de Lorette. The Battle of Lorette lasted from October 1914 to October 1915 and claimed the lives of 100,000 people with an additional 100,000 wounded. The cemetery, occupying an area of high ground, is made even more impressive with the two buildings erected on its site. The first and largest is the chapel with stained-glass windows, an impressive ceiling in gold, blue, silver and browns that have the mix of Romanesque and Byzantine causing you to look above in awe. The alter is overlooked by a large painted Christ with open arms. On the right side before the altar is a white marble statue depicting a mother holding a baby flanked by two kneeling angels. Candles add to the effect which is illuminated by concealed lighting. The structure surrounding this bears the names of many people from the conflict. There is a beauty bout this chapel that words can do little justice to. Exiting the chapel finds you looking at the Lantern Tower. Standing 150 ft. high, the interior houses a small chapel containing 32 coffins made of oak, one of which contains the remains of an unknown soldier whilst another has the remains of a soldier from the North African War. There is also a reliquary that contains soil and ashes from the concentration camps. The whole area is impressive and worthy of a visit.
Lunch is taken at an adjoining restaurant by the museum before we begin our drive back towards Boulogne. On the journey we stop at La Coupole, an underground area that was used during the war. Here is a history centre showing uniforms, V1 and V2 rockets, communication equipment and other memorabilia from the war. A new addition is the planetarium which shows the evolution and space race in 3D. From here we make our way back to the ship for what is to be a special and memorable evening for me, dinner with the Captain.
Time to get showered, changed and meet up with Captain Johannes and his other guests. The dress code on Azamara is what they call ‘Country Casual’ which is polo shirt and chinos as an example. So glad I packed a proper shirt, tie and jacket. First it is drinks followed by a group photograph. Then to the dinner table. Needless to say the service is impeccable as is the food. The Lamb Chops are some of the tenderest and tastiest I have ever had. The other guests come from the USA and Australia. The conversation is jovial, and a good evening is had by all. However, it passes too quickly, and soon it is over. It’s a night to remember, and I would recommend that if ever you are invited, take the opportunity.
We are in Dover where I wonder what I am going to do as I am often there visiting ships. When I look out of my cabin window, I see we are moored behind Aida Stella that dwarfs us. After a leisurely breakfast, I get the shuttle into town. Wandering around, I find the little church of St. Marys. Entering, I am met by a ‘Greeter’ who gives me a brief history of the church. Quite miraculously, it survived the bombing of the area during the war. Beautiful stained-glass windows some of which are associated with the sea and seamen whilst the walls are adorned with flags from the merchant navy, and other associations. The rear wall depicts a biblical scene that is painted in various shades of gold, blue, black, silver, brown and several more. From the various visitors it seems that this church may be in a guide book as I hear several different languages being spoken. The headstones in the grave area dated back to the early 1800s.
Soon it is back on the shuttle bus to the ship and time for lunch, after which I have my first try at ‘Shuffle Board’. It looks easy but after sending my 4 Pucks in different directions I see it is far from easy. The afternoon drifts by and then it is time for dinner. Tonight there is an Asian Night in the buffet restaurant. If it is as good as the Indian Night, it will be wonderful. I decide to give it a try and am not disappointed. Thai Pork, Sweet and Sour Chicken plus a host of others together with various rice’s and Chinese Vegetables. A delightful meal washed down with the wine of the day, which today was Sauvignon Blanc. That evening we sail for our next port, Amsterdam.
This article was written for the 70th anniversary of WW2 in 2014. The ‘Past to Present’ cruise has sailed, but do visit the Azamara website for similar upcoming voyages.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Azamara.