We stayed at the hotel in Ypres for a couple of nights and during the day we mainly travelled around visiting World War 1 cemeteries. This one is Perth Cemetery near Ypres (Ieper) so called because most of the soldiers around this area came from Perth in Scotland.
They’re well looked after by the War Graves Commission and most of the time the smaller ones are very peaceful places, they’re mainly surrounded by farmland.
In this one we disturbed a beautiful hare who was sunning himself amongst the flowers, far too fast to photograph of course, but I had to admire the choice of place to relax as the plants were particularly lovely here.
As you can see these cemeteries are very much part of the scenery with roads and people’s houses right next to them.
Bruges – or Brugge if you prefer, depending on whether you are speaking French or Flemish – they both mean ‘bridge’ anyway – smells mainly of chocolate due to all the chocolate shops around, and the cafes and restaurants serving waffles with chocolate sauce. I have to admit that occasionally there is a whiff of what I will politely call drains, it’s a fact that old places also have ancient drainage systems.
Bruges is full of grand buildings set around several squares, some of these ones are just local government buildings I think.
Others are really old like these two, there were queues of schoolkids going up the stairs most of the time we were there, so we decided to give that sightseeing opportunity a miss – whatever the building was!
Like many towns in Belgium and Holland Bruges is ringed by water, it’s part of the charm of their towns. Bruges is in west Flanders and is known as the Venice of the north. The city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mind you, I don’t think I would like to be living in one of the houses that have water lapping at their walls, they must be terribly damp. There have been settlements in this area since the Bronze Age.
Anyway, we decided that a trip on the canal was a must although as the boat filled up with fellow tourists I was looking over the edge and wondering if it was safe, they don’t half pack people in! I think it is partly the boat trip that made me think that Bruges was so busy with tourists because when I look at the other photos it doesn’t look too crowded.
The name Bruges actually means bridges – obviously because there are so many small bridges all over the town, they’re all quite low but there’s only one that you have to duck your head to get under it though, when you’re in the boat.
This is definitely the best way to get a view of the many ancient buildings around the town. It must be quite annoying though for the people living in the houses with constant tourist filled boats going past – with a guide talking through a microphone.
The swans mainly seem to congregate in this area, probably they take to the water when the boats retire for the evening.
We noticed what seemed to be two Swaene Hotels, a bit confusing.
A lovely lilac tree overhung the canal.
More photos of Bruges will be forthcoming, eventually!
In fact I’ve been back home for a couple of days now, but I’ve been busy getting back to ‘normal’ and doing the garden, it looked very lush when we got back – and I had been worrying that it would all be frazzled up as I knew the weather had been dry while we were away. It’s amazing how much everything had grown in the two weeks we were away in Belgium and Holland.
We got the car ferry from Hull in the north of England, sailing to Zeebrugge in Belgium. You might know that I enjoy a good rough sea, I keep saying that but for all I know I might suffer from sea-sickness now as every time we sail anywhere it’s always a flat calm, even when we were in the notorious Bay of Biscay. Luckily I don’t seem to suffer from claustrophobia as the cabins on the car ferries are teeny, definitely not even space to swing a cat – if you were that way inclined.
We sailed into Zeebrugge at 9.30 am and in no time Jack was driving towards Bruges which is just ten or so miles away from the port. There’s always that slightly hairy few minutes before you get used to driving/being driven on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
Neither of us had ever been to Bruges before but had heard from loads of people that it is well worth visiting, and they were correct. It’s actually much bigger than I had imagined it would be – lots of tourists of course, but also plenty of locals around. Bikes are almost as popular in Belgium as in Holland and I saw a tandem that was for hire amongst a pile of bikes, I was tempted by it, but J isn’t a cyclist so we explored by foot. Well the horse drawn carriage trip cost 50 euros, so I settled for taking a photo of them, but loads of people did hire them.
Between us we took over 500 photos, but I won’t inflict them all on you – honestly, these are just a few of them for now.
Everything here looks slightly misty. I didn’t think it really was even if the sky was a bit overcast.
You might know that earlier in the year we visited Ypres now known as Ieper in Belgium. Whichever direction you turn there’s a World War 1 cemetery or memorial. When we saw a sign to the Liverpool Scottish Memorial pointing down a wee farm track we decided to visit it.
Bumping along the track I could see a tractor in the distance ploughing a field, a dangerous occupation in that area, but someone has to do it. From time to time tractor drivers are killed when they inadvertently pull up an old shell.
It’s all very peaceful now and to the left of the memorial is a field with cows in it. To the right of it is a small wooded area and we went for a walk in it. What an atmospheric place, I wouldn’t say it was exactly spooky, I think I’m a very level headed person normally but honestly I could feel the presence of the soldiers who are no doubt lying in the ground, best left in peace amongst the trees now I think.
I think they started planting these Remembrance trees just outside Ypres in 2014, to commemorate 100 years since the beginning of World War 1. As you can see there is a framework around the tree and it has a map showing you exactly where the tree is and the trench lines as they were in 1914 with the British marked in blue while the Germans are in red.
I had always known that the trenches were close together but I had imagined them being maybe around 50 yards (metres) apart at the closest, but if you look carefully at the above photo you can see another tree with a framework around it, that was the British trench. So it’s just at the other side of a very narrow road, supposedly 20 metres away but I don’t even think it is that far. It looks to me like the soldiers could have almost leaned forward and shaken hands with each other, had they been so inclined. They wouldn’t even have had to raise their voices to speak to each other.
There’s something really crazy and awful about it, there couldn’t be anything anonymous about killing someone under those circumstances.
The Hooge Crater Cemetery is just across the other side of the road, and as it is just a two minute walk from our hotel we went there straight away to have a walk around it. We counted up the graves and the rows and thought that there must be over 1,000 men buried in it, but when we went to sign the register at the memorial it said there were nearly 6,000 men laid to rest there.
Often they have no names and say Known Unto God and often it says five soldiers rest here. Presumably they could only find bits and pieces of the poor souls who had been blown up.
It’s not exactly an enjoyable experience but if you are interested in that period of history then it’s something that you feel you must do. Looking at the graves made me think that we really can’t afford to leave the EU – flawed as it is (what is perfect) – if only to stop anything like that war ever happening again. You have to jaw jaw as Churchill said – not war war.
If you’re intersted you might like to click over to Jack’s Menin Gate post.
In Britain we say Ypres (Eeprr) in the French fashion, I’m not very good at that French ‘r’ rolling thing. Anyway, that was how it was pronounced locally at the time of World War 1. The British troops of course decided that it was much easier to call the place Wipers. After the war the Flemish people of the region decided that it was about time they dropped the French way of doing it, after all it isn’t in France it’s Belgium. So now it’s called Ieper (Eeyeper) well that’s what it sounds like to me. The whole town was flattened as it was right on the front line, and it had been such a lovely mediaeval town too.
After the war there was a discussion about what should be done about the place. Churchill was keen to keep the whole area in ruins as a memorial to the dead. Understandably that didn’t appeal to the locals who just wanted to get back home and get on with normal life. So the decision was taken to re-build as close as possible to what had been there before, and I think they made a good job of it.
The fountain above is obviously modern, I love fountains, there aren’t enough of them around, in Britain anyway. It was hot while we were there and in common with lots of old places Ypres has now and again a whiff of old drains but the town also smells of chocolate, very enticing.
If you go to Ypres be sure to visit The Flanders Field Museum. It’s one of the best museums I’ve ever visited – and I’ve visited a fair few in my time. Give yourself at least three hours to go around it.
Ypres is just a small town surrounded by farmland, interspersed with many cemeteries and memorials. I read somewhere that the farmland had been very poor prior to the war, but afterwards it was the most productive farmland in Europe. I don’t know if that’s true but it is an undeniable fact that it was certainly very well fertilized, what an awful thought.
It’s a dangerous job driving a tractor on these fields as unexploded shells are ploughed up all the time and sometimes they explode when they’re disturbed, killing or maiming the poor driver.
I’ve had an interest in World War 1 since schooldays, my maternal grandfather was apparently one of those crazy lads who lied about his age to join up. He survived the war but died when I was very young.
Anyway when we knew we would be going back to Holland we decided to combine a trip to Ypres (Ieper) in Belgium, so we booked up two nights away in Kasteelhof ‘t Hooghe mainly because the location seemed ideal to us. The photo above is of the side of the hotel and our room was just to the right of the middle of it, the window before the little gable roof and the door and two windows after that, if you look closely you can see our balcony.
The view from there is of a wee lake which has been formed from mine craters. It’s all very peaceful now but as you can see from the defensive concrete pill box this was once a very hot place to be. In fact the trench there was first dug by Germans and it was here that they used a flame thrower for the very first time. It was very strange to be sleeping about 30 yards from where that happened. A part of the trench has been preserved by a local history group and there are piles of rusting bits of shells and such lying around. Shrapnel is being dug up all the time and it’s a dangerous job ploughing fields around here as ploughs often disturb unexploded shells. Farmers are sometimes killed if the shells go off after being dragged up.
You have to imagine that there would have been no trees back then as they would have been blasted to bits in no time. The sheep grazed right beneath our window in the daytime but in the evening they moved elsewhere.
Above is a photo of the front of the hotel. Originally there was a very grand castle nearby and they had the misfortune to have the war taking place on their doorstep. In no time there was nothing left of the castle and after the war the owner had this building built which he called a cottage, it was to be a stopgap home for him. He intended to rebuild his grand house but it never happened. It’s a nice place and I would go back again, and probably will as there is plenty to see around there and we only had time to scratch the surface of all the places of historical interest.
If you’re interested in what went on in the area during the war have a look here.