We had arrived in Amiens the previous day and now we are exploring the old city. It is always a good idea to check out the Tourism information available for the city and its surrounds. We had located the train station from which our bus to the Australian War Memorial would depart at 03.15am tomorrow so we did not plan to exert ourselves too much. After finding the train station we obtained a map of the city and located the Office de Tourisme near the Cathedral Notre Dame.
Once in the Office de Tourisme, we learned that we could take a self-guided walk through the old city. Armed with the map and brochure, we set off. The first stop was the Cathedral in the Notre Dame quarter. Behind the cathedral we found the Bishops gardens. Sedate, green and colourful it was a pleasant change to the noise of the city. From the garden we passed into the lower town and entering the Saint – Leu quarter and Rue du Hocquet. This is where one will find the oldest houses of Amiens sited on the bank of the canal. Originally they were designed with a shop or merchants stand on the road level with living quarters above. Many had been restored but others were not even fit or safe for the pigeons. Some even needed bridges across the canal to their front doors.
Our journey followed the canals past the Church of Saint Leu and the Universite de Picardie Jules Verne. Amiens reminded us of Venice in some ways. This had also been a centre of industry with 25 watermills operating grinding wheat and woad leaf and other industries. We passed a number of different building styles but one building caught our eyes – this building had no right to be standing. A little further along we came to the Place Aristide- Briand where the typical building style of weatherboard at the ground floor and a first story in cob (a mixture of straw and clay pasted over slated timber then plastered. We also saw some of the residents of the canal.
From there we entered Rue Motte and its myriad of smaller streets echoing the trades of the past – rue des Arches (archers), rue des Clarions (bugles), passage des coches (horse drawn carriages). We were now close to the finish of our tour and we found ourselves in Rue Belu and near our apartment. Rue Belu is also known as Quai Belu but its former name had far more charm – Rue de la Queue de Vache (Cow Tail St.) as it was here that animals were brought to drink from a public trough. The drinking trough for animals is gone and replaced with human troughs – Restaurants.
So we returned to the Apartment to rest as we would be arising at 02.00am the next morning to travel to the dawn service. On the way we passed Pont du Cange the oldest bridge in Amiens still showing signs of the old fortifications that once protected the city and the Water Market where the “hortillons” (marsh vegetable farmers) brought their goods via the canals to the market. A market continues to operate on the site every Saturday. We planned to visit des Hortillonnages but after our rest.
We were met by our hosts Henri and Isobel who invited us to join them for a glass of wine after settling in. We made a quick trip to the ATM for some cash and the Spar for a bottle of wine. In less than 5 minutes we were in sight of the grand Notre Dame Cathedral of Amiens, the restaurants of Rue Belu, the statue in the middle of the canal which some one dressed in a different coloured shirt each day and the water markets.
Armed with some cash and a bottle of Bordeaux we joined Henri and Isobel for sparkling wine aperitifs. Very civilised. Henri had adequate English and tried very hard to hold a conversation with us. Kerry made a friend in their Jack Russell terrier “Toupee” which jumped from Isobel’s lap to Kerry’s lap with excitement. It had been a long day so we farewelled our hosts, ate our chicken salad and retired to bed to explore Amiens tomorrow.
The next day good weather continued although Henri had informed us the forecast was for rain. After breakfast we set off early to see where we would catch our bus to the Australian War memorial for the dawn service. The bus departed at 03.15am so it was going to be an early start. Crossing the River Somme we made our way to Boulevard D’Alsace Lorraine which was lined with Australian flags all the way to the train station and the highest modern building in Amiens Tour Perrett. The rail station announced by a large display of WW1 scenes and posters that ANZAC Day was April 25th. We had selected a very centrally located apartment.
Satisfied that we could walk to catch our bus, we then walked down Rue de Noyen (now a Mall) making our way to the Office de Tourisme. In Square St Denis we found the memorial “Aux Picards Martyrs de la Resistance” reminding us that France had been an occupied country during WW2. The square was very pretty and relaxing with spring flowers blooming and the trees covered in new leaves. Someone had smashed a cake on the ground and the pigeons were enjoying morning tea. The Mall continued down Rue Rue des Trois Cailloux. We discovered a small lane through to Jules Verne’s House and Square J du Becquet with views to the Cathedral at one end and to the Palais de Justice on another side of the square.
We returned to the Mall and continued the walk down to the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). The Mall is decorated with fountains and small trees some of which are woven together such that they form a wall of foliage in summer. From Place Gambetta we could see the grand clock through to the Cathedral. We were looking for the Office de Tourisme and the Cathedral was the landmark to find it. We made our way to Place Notre Dame and stood before a gothic cathedral of gigantic proportion. It seemed taller than most we had seen (Henri claimed it to be the tallest in France) but its body seemed truncated. The exterior is being cleaned to remove the grime of the city and the interior was also receiving some attention.
The façade is a decorated with statuary of all kind and the door arches are emblazoned with carvings and grotesques. Inside I can believe that it may be the tallest interior in France. Here lie the graves of many important Amienites and the memorials to the soldiers and countries liberating Amiens. They cannot thank Australia enough for its sacrifices in two world wars.