Originally, this was going to be called Bertha In Belgium had our plans not changed dramatically three days before we were due to leave.
Someone who knows Belgium well posted on Facebook that Gent's Low Emissions Zone was due to come into force on 1st January 2020 and that it would cost €35 PER DAY to buy
permits for Bertha. No way are we going to pay this extra - we would only be driving inside the LEZ for a matter of a few minutes each day and €70 was too much. We had already booked a
very expensive (but fantastic) hotel, on top of which there would be another €100 for parking and we were not happy with this!
Fortunately we had made our reservation on Booking.com and had free cancellation up until 16:00 on the day of our arrival, so we cancelled that hotel and set about looking. Inspiration struck and
we booked a nice looking hotel - with FREE off-road and secure parking! - for a fraction of the previous cost in Arras. We had passed through Arras a couple of times before and
always thought that it would be nice to have a longer look sometime. Here was our chance!
Well done, Stadt Gent! You have introduced an LEZ which is completely different to other cities in Belgium - and cost your local businesses upwards of €1000 on this trip alone and made us realise that
there are plenty of other lovely places to go where we can enter for free. Foot well and truly shot: we may never stay in Gent again. Brussels also has an LEZ - but cars over thirty years old can enter
for free as long as they have registered for a permit. Gent's rules are that every car under forty years old must pay.
This is incredibly illogical and will not save very much pollution: how many cars of thirty to forty years old are there being driven into Gent and how much tourist revenue has been lost
as a result of this short-sighted policy? We previously adored Gent but this has rather soured our long-standing love affair with the city.
So: Arras here we come!
Bertha's engine is now officially run in, so we are able to cruise at a reasonable speed. We almost never take her over 4000rpm, which is an indicated 80mph - but in reality this is about 72mph as
the speedometer reading is more of an estimate than an official figure.
We arrived at the Eurotunnel Folkestone terminal after a great run and boarded the train almost straight away. Such a shame that the burger stall at the place where you wait to board has gone: they
were pretty much the best burgers we have ever had!
One of our pleasures is to take the back roads whenever we are not in a hurry so we decided to take a detour and look at some forts that were marked on the map north of Bergues.
They weren't open but we did stop to take a photo... This one is Fort Vallière, designed by Vauban, as was Fort Louis a little further north.
Somewhere to investigate another day. Heading south we made for Vimy Ridge where there is an incredible memorial to the Canadians who lost their lives takng the ridge. It was under wraps for years
whilst it was being restored - and it looks stunning, especially in the last rays of the evening sun.
Vimy Ridge is only a few kilometers north of Arras (and was a vantage point from which to shell Arras in WWI) so we haven't far to go. Twenty minutes or so later we are parking in the
relative quiet of the Hotel Le Dome's car park. Very glad to have off road parking as the Boulevard de Strasbourg is quite busy. Fortunately we cannot hear the road from our suite - which was
enormous (and two thirds the price of the small room that we had booked in Gent!). The restaurant next door was fantastic, too!
The next day we took a wander around Arras.
It's a beautiful town with some distinctly Flemish influences in its architecture.
We also visited the War Memorial and had a short walk towards the back of the citadelle:
About 30km south west of Arras is a cemetery that we specifically wanted to visit, so with a couple of hours of daylight remaining (oh how nice it is to be an hour ahead of the UK: even on New Year's Eve
daylight happens at more sensible times) we decided that we would go for it. We're so glad we did: it was a beautiful evening and very atmospheric...
Of course it would be a shame to be so close to Thiepval and not pay a visit there too, so after driving along a distinctly rough road (we do try not to go off-roading in Bertha as she doesn't seem
quite the right car for it) - thanks, Google Maps! - we stopped outside the Ulster Tower for a quick photo opportunity:
The time is getting on and daylight is running out, so it was time to head back to Arras for some beer and dinner! 2019 came to a close with a lovely sunset - at least it did so where we were.
Having put Bertha to bed for the night we headed out for some food and wine, stopping to photograph the lights as we went. No fireworks - much more environmentally and animal friendly.
For the first time in many years we decided not to stay up and see the New Year in, so we hit the hay when we got back to the hotel. 2019 is done - what will 2020 bring for us all? I'm so glad
we didn't know - but we were determined to carry on with Bertha's restoration to make her absolutely as nice as possible!
Bertha In France 2