Morning Kids? So, Dave is feeling rather ambivalent today; did I get enough sleep or is my body just playing games with me? Hmmmmmmm. It was definitely not as good as the night before. I am clearly not as adept as my roomie at falling sleep, who seems to be out the moment his head hits the pillow. And then the cacophony starts. Ugh. Do you ever find yourself so frustrated that you’re torn between crying and physically wanting to harm someone? Those thoughts may have crossed my mind during the several conscious periods I had during the night. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!
So, today’s agenda. Well, I’m just sitting here by my lonesome in the lobby waiting for breakfast. The bus departs at 830, leaving Amsterdam and the Netherlands behind for Belgium. Our travels today will take us to Ypres, the site of numerous epic battles during WWI. Obviously the most important are the Second Battle of Ypres, fought in April-May, 1915 and the Third Battle of Ypres, more precisely the Battle of Passchedaele, fought in November 1917 (or at least the Canadian part was). We will be commemorating those and other events at the St. Julien Memorial and the Menin Gate Memorial.
“🎶On the road again…” And hey guess what? It’s bright, sunny and +15C outside. Haha! Ya, okay; if you fell for that you’re a sucker. It’s once again rainy, damp, windy and cold (7C feels like -2). It’s supposed to be 10/11C in Ypres, but depending on what forecast you look at, the rain or showers are expected to last until early or late afternoon. Hopefully it’s sooner than later and we have a chance to enjoy Ypres out of the rain.
I haven’t mentioned yet that I love Ypres too. This will be my fourth visit to the historic city and I can’t get enough. The history, the people, the architecture…it’s all amazing and why I’m enamoured with it. Ypres dates back to the 1300s, and was a prominent city in Flanders, particularly with regard to banking and textiles. One of the most famous buildings in the city, the Cloth Hall, is a lasting symbol of that. Sadly, it (with the exception of its exterior walls) and many other structures were destroyed during the fighting in WWI. They were rebuilt, restoring the city to its former glory. The central square, the Grote Markt, the ramparts and the Menin Gate all form quite an impressive experience.
Okay, so we’re back on the road, 120km from Ypres. I managed to get in a good nap before we had a break at a truck stop just west of Antwerp. By law, European bus/truck drivers have to stop for 30 minutes every 2/2.5 hours. Therefore, the travel plazas are amazing; this one had a Texaco station, a Starbucks, Burger King and huge convenience store. After taking advantage of the facilities, we all stocked up on food and goodies for the last part of the trip. Now we’re eating, sharing and chatting, hoping that the weather improves for Ypres.
I must say, not to hark on it, because I never do, that this is the worst weather I’ve encountered on an EF trip. It could be that we were spoiled on previous trips, like the last one which was hot and dry. That being said, usually the rain lasts a day or two then clears out. However, this has been day after day; you can see it clearly on the system maps. The jet stream is cutting across Europe, and the weather above it is unsettled and below is awesome. I blame climate change, but then I usually do.
Alright, so I’m sitting here in the lobby of the Cloth Hall, the Flanders Fields Museum, waiting for everyone to finish their visit. Our first stop upon reaching the Ypres area was the St. Julien Memorial (Sint-Juliaan). The memorial, a statue, is known as the Brooding Soldier and marks the first Canadian action in WWI at the Second Battle of Ypres. Here, near St. Julien, the Canadians fought a desperate 3-day battle against the Germans to hold back a massive attack which included the first use of poison gas in war. It was rainy and very windy, but we managed a quick prayer and a group photo.
The museum is a very interesting place to visit, and the kids really enjoyed it. There is a lot information about WWI and many artifacts from the area. I’ve been there before, so I moved fairly quickly through it. I also had an ulterior motive; I wanted to walk the ramparts of the city to the southern, or Lillie Gate. The best was that the sun came out…halle fricken lujah! I was starting to feel a bit like a mushroom with all the rain. The best part was that the winds calmed, and it was actually quite nice out.
I’ve done the trek to the Ramparts Lillie Cemetery before, and it a beautiful walk along the treed rampart. It took just over 10 minutes to get there from museum, and the kids I had in tow, Liam M from our school, and Beth, Sarah, Nick and Brodie from St. Ignatius, were glad they came. The cemetery is small and quaint, maybe 50 graves, but very beautifully built in the ramparts just west of the Lillie Gate alongside the canal. The sun shining through the clouds added a warm and fitting touch to the scene.
We had to be back at the Grote Markt for 5:00 as we were going into one of the local shops to purchase some great Belgian chocolates. The shop is called Leonidas, and I’m sure they give EF something for bringing all the tour groups through. I’ve been there each time I’ve visited Ypres, and the owner has the same pitch and mannerisms. He reminds me of the Shamwow guy!
Dinner was at a restaurant called “De Trompet.” Lasagna was on the menu, but the roast chicken the British group who were also there eating looked better to me. It was okay, but you can’t serve an Italian lasagna at a Belgian restaurant. That’s kinda like sacrilege. The ice cream dessert was on point though.
Our last thing for the day was the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. I’ve described this in previous years, but for the sake of clarity, it’s worth repeating. The gate was completed in 1928 as a memorial to the tens of thousands of Commonwealth missing in the Ypres Salient. It is massive, but when they started engraving the names on the memorial, they realized there wasn’t going to be enough room. They managed to get nearly 55,000 names on the panels up to August 1917; the rest are commemorated at Tyne Cot. Anyway, since it opened, with the exception of WWII, they have a daily Last Post ceremony at 8:00.
I hustled ahead of the group to get the spot I wanted to record the event, but a couple beat me to it. I had to settle for standing beside them for nearly 45 minutes until it began. It always amazes me how touching it is for just a 10 minute ceremony, but it proves just a small thing like this goes a long way in helping people remember such a sad and tragic event in our history.
Now we’re on the bus for a 60km drive to our hotel located in France, just north of Vimy Ridge and Arras. I don’t feel too bad, but I am tired. It’s been a long day, even though part of it was just sitting. We’re only here for a night, and tomorrow we’ll be leaving for Normandy, stopping first at Vimy Ridge, which is only 30 minutes away. From there we will head to Beaumont Hamel, and then another 4 drive to the next hotel in Caen.
Anyway, I going to get rolling as it is late and we have another early morning. Until then…