After a busy morning (Part I) visiting some of the sites in Arras town, we had lunch at La Rapière, Grand Place. The restaurant had a good menu and plenty of choice and I don’t know anywhere else where two people can get a decent two course meal, water and bread for less than €30 and that also comes with vaulted ceilings in the cellar dining area and a glass covered door to history – the Boves – a network of underground passages which run underneath the whole town.
After that we visited the Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts). In the magnificent Abbey St Vaast it has a permanent collection of paintings, costumes, furniture, clocks, and much more. On the day we went we were lucky to catch the “Roulez Carrosses!” exhibition currently on loan from the Chateau de Versailles (until Nov 2013). Coaches, carriages, sedan chairs and sleds of the great and the good (and not so good) from the 17th – 19th Centuries. Napoleon’s marriage coach and the funeral coach of Louis XVIII; the toy carriage of Dauphin Louis-Charles (later Louis XVII) – lavish, opulent and magnificent.
We had coffee in the places des Héros, a pint in the Irish Pub, wandered the streets taking photos of shops, hotels, restaurants and people. Without fail everyone we met or spoke to seemed to be happy, friendly and overall immensely proud of their beautiful town which they wanted to share.
Finally we went to the Carrière Wellington (Wellington Quarry), a memorial site set underground a few minutes drive from the old town (close to the station). This one requires a guided tour – there are twelve miles of tunnels dug over the centuries, home to soldiers in both World Wars. It was a moving visit – lots of short video clips as you walk on duckboards around the tunnels. There are metal helmets of the soldiers left where they were found decades after the last great war; markings on the walls, carvings by the soldiers. The guides who speak English and French make it come alive with little anecdotes – the water was cold but there was one bucket to more than a dozen men for washing. The “Tommys” soon worked out that it was better to be last for the bucket – the water was warmed! At the end of the visit a stop at the stairs that led out of the tunnels – up to the terrible, brutal Battle of Arras in 1917, littered with mementoes of those awful days left to remind us who visit today.
In the evening the squares were alive with people enjoying drinks outside on the pavement, window displays were lit up, there was music from a bar – very chic, very welcoming.
We didn’t visit all the sites we wanted – we’ll have to go back for the Arts Quarter, La Citadelle Vauban, Cité Nature, Nemetacum (the Roman ruins) Vimy Ridge and Battlefield Tours. We were told that the Christmas Village here is “the best in the north” and amongst the best in France so we’re definitely going back for that!A bientôt Janine ps if you missed Part I and want to read it now see here: Arras Road Trip Part I