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Liberation Tour 2015 – Opening Salvo

Paris, France, France - Liberation Tour 2015 - Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

In 1963 I became a very fortunate young lad as I was asked by my grandfather William Campbell Dunlop to join him on a tour of the European battlefields that he had fought in as a veteran of WWI. We visited not only WWI sites, but also the Normandy D-Day beaches and Canadian liberation sites in Holland. This trip literally changed my life. Visting battlefield after battlefield and the cemetery after cemetery that inevitably followed, I gained an appreciation of the incredible sacrifice that so many Canadians had made in both wars. When you are thirteen, as I was then, you are just beginning to understand that you are not immortal and the terror of death becomes real. The very idea that hundreds of thousands of people in the prime of life could voluntarily put their lives at risk so others could live theirs in peace, was to me, while incomprehensible, also irrefuteably true. The graves didn’t lie. I vowed then and there to return someday and bring others so that they could experience the feelings I did so many years ago and I have with Liberation Tour 2015.

This April I am returning and keeping that promise, bringing with me my wife Alison and my sisters Anne and Kaye. We are joining thirty-seven other Canadians in a tour that follows a route that is remarkably similar to that I followed 52 years ago.

The reason it took me so long to return was that I wanted to join an organized tour that specialized in the Canadian contribution to both wars and while there are a few, none of them really offered the type of comprehensive detail I was interested in. Then in 2013 I stumbled across the Liberation Tours website and knew I had found the company I wanted to travel with. I was impressed by the fact that they only did a few tours a year and the price was quite reasonable in comparison to other companies offering similar trips. The one thing that made me hesitate was the large size of the group, but in my experience Canadians are probably the easiest of nationalities to travel with – they show up on time, are polite and reasonably subdued, but still know how to have a good time. So I booked it.

Liberation Tour 2015

Liberation Tours is based out of Keswick, Ontario where the owners have an affiliation with the Georgina Military Museum.

In preparing for the tour I had frequent contact with John Cannon the tour leader and he was invaluable in providing assistance. John’s day job is as a fibre-optic equipment salesman, but his true passion is Canadian military history. Our interpreter is Canadian actor/restauranteur/museum curator Philip Craig who goes by just Phil. We meet them and the rest of the group at the Novotel near the Eiffel Tower at 10:00 for a quick Cole’s notes tour of Paris with a very funny and self-deprecating Parisienne guide.

Liberation Tours has selected Trafalgar Tours  as the transportation provider. With Trafalgar we get driver Pieter Peel and guide Mark Gascoigne which gives us a team of four for this trip.

Mark & Pieter, the Liberation Tour guide and driver
Mark and Pieter

After the tour we end up on the Champs Elysees outside Chez Clement restaurant. This is Alison and my sister Anne on the way in.

Outside Chez Clement
Outside Chez Clement

After a delicious three course lunch with absolutely the best onion soup I have ever tasted Phil has us each introduce each other, and John conscripts the youngest member of the group Lauren to be his lieutenant. There are people on the tour from Victoria to Halifax and all provinces in between except Quebec and P.E.I. Ages range from 80 to 13 and there are a number who have served in the military. After a while it becomes apparent that there are people who originally hailed from Quebec, P.E.I. and Newfoundland so we have representatives from every province. It looks like it will be a great group to travel with.

On the way in I couldn’t  help but notice the Arc de Triumphe just down the way. It’s a beautiful day and we are in Paris in the spring – what could be better? But we are about to find out that things were not always so rosy for Parisiennes along the Champs Elysees. 

Arc de Triumphe on Liberation Tour 2015
Arc de Triumphe

Phil adopts a grim pose and describes life in Paris under the Nazi occupation when the Germans marched down the Champs Elysees every day from the Arc de Triumphe to the Place de la Concorde. The Eiffel Tower was draped with a huge swastika flag  and from its headquarters at 84 Rue Foch the SS terrorizes the local citizenry.

SS headquarters on Avenue Foch
SS headquarters on Rue Foch

But just as all good things must come to an end, so too with bad things and a couple of months after the Allies land in Normandy on D-Day Paris is liberated, but not before a stirring tank duel that takes place almost right outside the restaurant doors. Phil describes the encounter between a Nazi panzer in Place de la Concorde and two Free French Sherman tanks. The panzer is hit and disabled as is the German army which retreats and leaves Paris to the Allies. We’ve only been on the Liberation Tour for half a day and we’ve already liberated Paris.

The Liberation of Paris
The Liberation of Paris

Outside we don the special Liberation Tour hats we have purchased and its time to get started.

Putting on the Liberation Tour Hats
Putting on the Liberation Tour Hats

A Boat Ride on the Seine

After this great start we board the bus to the Seine embankment and board a large touring boat for a cruise up and down the Seine. We are fortunate to get seats right at the front of the boat from where we get an unobstructed view of Paris from the Seine – that is after we have to shoo away the Chinese tourists who try to stand directly in front of us and others on the tour, completely oblivious to anyone but themselves.

For the next hour and a half we pass by the most iconic landmarks in Paris.

On the tour boat
On the tour boat
Museum Quai D'Orsay on Liberation Tour 2015
Museum Quai D’Orsay
Notre Dame on Liberation Tour 2015
Notre Dame
Pont Alexandre III on Liberation Tour 2015
Pont Alexandre III
Eiffel Tower framed by Pegasus on Liberation Tour 2015
Eiffel Tower framed by Pegasus
Eiffel Tower on Liberation Tour 2015
Eiffel Tower

A most unusual site is this barge with a little red amphibious car on it. Believe it or not this is where the CEO of Cartier lives.

Cartier Barge
Cartier Barge

Novotel Eiffel Tower

After the tour we check into the Novotel Eiffel Tower which despite its name and proximity to the Eiffel Tower actually has no view of it from most of the rooms. If you follow the link the hotel is the reddish building in the middle and the view is blocked by the building on the left. Still there is a nice view of the Seine from our room.

View of the Seine from hotel room
View of the Seine from hotel room

That night we find an absolutely fabulous restaurant, Cafe Michel. You can read my TripAdvisor review here.

With Michel at Cafe Michel
With Michel at Cafe Michel

It’s been a great start. Bon soir.


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