When The War Is Over
Trip Start Sep 07, 2008
33Trip End Oct 10, 2008
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It was pouring rain outside when we walked down the path to the cemetery
We drove through the countryside known as Flanders Fields, which is where the trench warfare that made this part of the war so unique occurred. It is all now returned to farming land but you can still get the impression of what the landscape would have looked like to those young boys away from home for the first time fighting in a war on the other side of the world. The heavy rain, despite giving me a nasty case of trench foot from my leaky shoes, lent the whole experience an even more sombre and eerie feel.
Arriving in Ypres in time for lunch, we were immediately impressed with what a picturesque little town it is. Completely gutted by shelling during WWI it has been rebuilt to preserve the style of buildings that were present before the war. The Cloth Hall on the main market square is a magnificent Gothic building, apparently the largest Gothic building not built for religious purposes in the whole of Europe
We spent the afternoon brushing up on our WWI history in the "In Flanders Field Museum" which is housed inside the Cloth Hall. It was really interesting to read about this part of WWI from a Belgian perspective as I guess in the past I have only really been told the Australian or British version of events. It was really interesting to hear how the locals were affected by the war being waged in their backyard and to also realise how grateful the locals are to the Commonwealth troops for protecting their neutrality which would otherwise have been taken from them by the invading Germans. There is a section of the museum which is quite hard hitting where a voice reads two poems to you whilst you stand in the middle of a room surrounded by suspended gas masks. The first poem is the very famous " In Flanders Fields" by John McRae. Which starts off...
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row. Etc etc
The second poem we had never heard before and was called "Dulce et decorum est", which means "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country"
Our home for the night in Ypres was a B&B called Charlotte's House that I found on the internet. We were the only people staying here tonight and had the pick of all 3 rooms. It also meant that we had full use of the rest of the house including the kitchen and lounge rooms all to ourselves. What a treat after tiny hotel rooms for 3 weeks to have a whole house to relax in. We didn't stay long as we headed back out into the downpour to explore more of this incredible part of the world. We drove to the neighbouring town of Poperinghe and Langmarke, both of which are very different, as Poperinghe (or Pops as it was known) was a rest stop for Allied troops on their time off, and Langemarke was behind German lines.
Today was a tough day of sightseeing both because of the rain and also the intensity of the subject matter. We relaxed in our B&B with a few Belgian beers and mulled over our day so far. It wasn't over yet as we headed back out just before 8pm for the main reason we had decided to stay in Ypres in the first place. Every night since 1928 at 8pm at Menin Gate they play the Last Post. After the war a group of locals decided that they wanted to do this as an ongoing reminder of their appreciation to the sacrifices made by Allied troops in saving their country from invasion. It was quite incredible to see a group of about 200 people crowded under the gate on a very rainy night almost 90 years after the war had ended paying their respects to the fallen
In all the excitement I realised later that I had dropped my favourite hat, which I had respectfully taken off for the service. Despite the rain, Matt convinced me we should walk back and look for it even though 2 hours had passed when I realised. I couldn't believe it when we got there to see my hat sitting there under the names of the soldiers on a ledge under the gate. I felt so lucky and grateful that someone had left it there for me to come back and find. Nice to see there are good people left in the world.
Tonight is our last in Belgium as tomorrow we head back into France for the remainder of our trip. I have really enjoyed Belgium, especially the quaint little towns we have discovered. My previous experience of Belgium had been a short visit to Brussels with a beer, a waffle and some chocolate before heading off to somewhere a little more exciting. For that reason we changed our itinerary at the last minute and decided to see the smaller towns of Belgium instead.
I must say I have discovered some of my favourite things on this trip right here in tiny little Belgium. I have become a very big fan of Lambic beer especially the cherry variety. Then there is the chocolate which is to die for. Not to mention the waffles which are the best I have ever tasted, especially when you order them in a restaurant where you can enjoy them with cutlery on a plate, instead of trying to wrestle one on a little piece of cardboard with a plastic fork. The simple things in life...