Since Emma and I have been together, we've done a fair amount of travelling, the first time being to France and Belgium at the beginning of November 2013, with an overnight stay in Ieper.
Emma hadn't been there before, and before we left I’d done some research. One of her family names is Streek, so I had visited the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and found all of the Streeks who were either buried or commemorated in France or Belgium.
We travelled over by ferry on the Friday, but discovered that most of France was closed as it was All Saints’ Day, when Catholic families visit the graves of their family and lay flowers. This we discovered when we visited the first of the Streeks, who is buried in Calais, and we found the cemetery packed with the living, as well as the dead.
We arrived in Ieper and settled into the Hotel, with time to visit the chocolate shops and have a drink before we attended the Last Post Ceremony which is organised by the Last Post Association and takes place at 8pm every evening at The Menin Gate.
This was Emma’s first time at the ceremony, and although I have been to it numerous times, I had always attended during the summer. It is a lot more atmospheric when its dark outside and cold, being just over a week short of the 95th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
After a fabulous dinner and a good night’s sleep, we visited some of the other places of interest, including Tyne Cot, Langemark and the village of Passendale, before heading down the motorway to France, where we visited my Great Grandfather who is commemorated in Dud Corner Cemetery before ending up at the Thiepval Memorial.
After this, it was back to Calais and the ferry, which was when I discovered that Emma is definitely not a sailor. Granted, the sea was a little rough, and also granted that the crossing that normally takes 1.5 hours ended up taking an hour longer because we got blown off course, after which Emma informed me that she would not be travelling by ferry again.
Other than a visit to my old school for Remembrance Sunday, the first time that I had been back in quite a few years due to Army Reserve commitments, the next trip away was for my birthday in the January of 2014.
My birthday treat was a night in a hotel in London (we actually had a suite!) and I was taken to see The Mousetrap. This Agatha Christie play has been running continuously since 1952, but if you don’t want to spoil the end if you haven’t seen it, don’t read the whole of the above article.
The next major trip abroad was for Emma’s birthday, which I started planning and sorting out before my birthday. Because it was a special birthday (her xxth) I decided that I’d have to do something special. However, I also decided that it was to be a complete surprise and everything was planned in secrecy, with very few people being privy to the final destination.
The day before her birthday, Emma and I boarded a train from Paddock Wood to Strood, where we boarded the high-speed train to St Pancras. Emma still had no idea where we were going, having assumed that we weren’t leaving the UK and not realising that I still had her passport from our trip to Belgium. In fact, it was only when I steered her into the entrance for the Eurostar that I told her that our destination was Paris. Her face was a picture.
Having arrived and settled into our hotel, we decided to have a walk and explore the city as neither of us had been to Paris before. This short walk turned into quite a trek, with us visiting Montmartre, before walking down through the Tuileries Garden, and walking along the Seine as far as the Louvre, although we didn’t go in, as it was evening time by now.
We did, however, find a little restaurant in one of the backstreets for dinner before attempting to walk back to our hotel, which was located opposite Gare du Nord. But, due to a combination of a good meal washed down with a nice wine and the fact that I was in a city that I didn't know, we became geographically challenged (I had to explain to Emma that an Officer is never lost, he is always where he wants to be, but on occasion he may become geographically challenged). As a result, we cheated and had our first trip on the Métro.
The Sunday was Emma’s actual birthday so we started off bright and early with a Métro trip to the Champs-Élysées, which we then walked the length of, passing such shops as Tiffany’s (fortunately closed!) until we got to the Arc de Triomphe. But then we made our way to the place that Emma really wanted to see, the Eiffel Tower.
The crowd waiting to enter was huge, and we actually queued for about two hours before we even got into the tower, but we made it to the very top to be rewarded with spectacular views of the whole city.
After a leisurely afternoon, we got dressed up for Emma’s birthday dinner, for which I had booked a Seine river cruise with a five course meal, which was absolutely delicious and very relaxed as we sailed up and down the river, all started with a Kir Royal.
Sadly, the following day was our last day in Paris, the weekend having seemed to have flown by, but we just had time to do a final bit of sight-seeing to Notre Dame de Paris before picking up presents for the kids and jumping on the Eurostar to return to the UK to nurse our aching feet and legs, because of the distance that we'd walked during the weekend.
A couple of months later, we were on the move again, this time with Alec, Drew, Maggie and Ant, Emma’s son, to Menorca, which as I have already said, was my first experience of an all-inclusive holiday, but is definitely something that I would consider again.
As for birthday treats, they have been a little less ‘lavish’ this year, other than the hotel. Mine was again in London, with a day spent at the British Museum, a place that I would highly recommend that you visit, if you haven’t already done so. But be prepared for the fact that you won’t get around everything in just one day! The day was rounded off with a nice meal at a French restaurant near the hotel.
Emma’s birthday was at the same hotel as mine, the Hotel Russell, and again we ate at the French restaurant just up the road.
Since then, we’ve had our road trip to Scotland, and we are heading off to Malta next month, both of which will be covered in future entries.