Friday, July 11, 2008

Brussels to London by Stormy Sea!!

Brussels was better than we thought it would be!! We had been a trifle alarmed at the number of people we had met who raised their eyebrows at the idea that we were planning to spend three nights in Brussels – even Charlotte, our hostess in Ypres and a rabid Belgian patriot had looked a little blankly when we asked for things to do there!!

Suffice it to say that we enjoyed our two nights having planned to spend the other in Dover before heading on to London.

Brussels is a very pleasant place with scenes reminiscient of

many European cities without anything truly remarkable. The old city is delightful and the square is certainly one of the best we have seen – not exactly enhanced by a handball game on the Sunday between teams kitted out like our 20/20 cricketers. We wandered a lot, saw the Comic Muesum (and Herge of course), enjoyed the Musical Instruments Museum (where we had one of the best meals we have had all trip!) with its great view over the city and Sunday afternoon in a pub watching Federer and Nadal in real time

while drinking beer. Actually was good to have a bit of a spell after the pace of the last week.

Monday 7th – Tuesday 8th

To London, to London to see the Queen!

Having decided to invade England by sea we left Brussels for Calais via Lille. Apart from the British Customs at Brussels station things went well and we embarked on Sea France arouns 12.30, to complete one of Elaine's dreams to see the white cliffs from the sea! Unfortunately the crossing was as “rough as guts” (to quote an old salt Mick was yarning to while Elaine was throwing hers up in the loo!) Mick enjoyed the pounding waves (imagining he was Eisenhower on D-Day or some such!) but Elaine and many othes didn't. To add to the pain the trip was ninety minutes longer than usual as we had to “hove to” (according to Mick) for quite a while!

Elaine brightened up when we were in the harbour and saw the white (a bit grey today) cliffs from there. We repaired to The Park Inn where we had lodgings for the night. After a bit of a spell we wandered round the town and along the seafront (in a roaring gale) before retiring to a restaurant to have some dinner. (England seems the same summer and winter – at least it ensures that you get to wear all the clothes you brought with you just in case!!)

Finally to London around 2 pm (we would still cross the channel again (even Elaine) it is good to see where you are going!) to our upmarket digs at Canada Water (think Docklands, Jubilee Line – sort of Green Square in Sydney – lots of medium rise apartments being purchased by young professionals hoping to make a killing in the property market) most suitable for us – it even has a bath!! The weather was great so out we went to “sniff around”.

It is great to see large crowds just hanging around in places like Leicester Square with the leafy trees – so much different to winter time!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

We like Amsterdam!!

Wed July 2nd - Sat July 5th

Only two days in this pleasant open city had us feeling very much at home. The locals ruise past on bicycles (you have to be careful not to get skittled!) and this seems to set the laid-back tone, why rush??

We “did” the museums and Anne Frankhuis and while we enjoyed the great stuff to see it was the sense of being at ease which capped it off. Elaine sniffed out free classical music in Vondelpark so on the Thursday we took a picnic – we still had a bottle of French wine! - with food from the lovely Welsh woman who has just opened a takeaway in the “Newtown”like district (Elaine read the review in a street paper, the woman hadn't even seen the review and was grateful for a copy for her window!) The goodies included chicken curry with cous cous AND rhubarb and strawberry crumble!! Just like being at Homebush for concets in Feb – only this is Holland – the violinist was excellent and the sax quartet played some Phillip Glass, among others!

Van Gogh was open until 10 on Friday so after a day out and a snooze we attended to find, to our delight, that the evening included free music (string quartet, modern stuff, this time) so with red wine and nibbles we relaxed in the lovely gallery and thought how lucky we are – just like being at an AGNSW soiree but when your gaze wandered if always fell on a Van Gogh!!

Home via our Vondlepark – we had seen the food there last night – it was modern dance tonight, we only stayed a little while and were home early (10.30) to do some skyping and sleep.

Up early and to train via tram (same friendly conductor who was delighted to see us!) and off to Brussels.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Flanders Fields

Monday Afternoon June 30 th – Wed July 2nd

Flanders Fields

After a massive holdup on the A1 (we had lunch in the car!) which led to a very adventurous TomTomless cross-country excursion we arrived at Fromelles.

This is our first point of contact with the Northern Battlefields and is a rather desolate place where so may young men died completely pointlessly. The monument is a lovely statue and the absence of headstones (just the white crosses flush with the grass) made it very touching. With luck (and directions from the mine hostess we found the site of the recent diggings and, eve though it is just a bare patch of earth it was goo to find it!

On then to Varlet Farm our most comfortable B&B right near Passchendaele where we were warmly welcomed by Charlotte. After a refreshing shower we decamped to Ypres for the Last Post at the Menin Gate. Again this was great to experience – there were lots of Brits as July is a time of significant anniversaries for so many of their ex-servicemen. A lovely dinner i the main square and home (in the daylight!) at eleven!

On Tuesday we travelled from Polygon Wood through Zonnebeke to Passchendaele, followng the battles and gaining a great understanding of some of the realities and trials of the soldiers. Particularly fine museums at Zonnebeke and Tyne Cot added greatly to our experiece and so many cemetries, large and small, tell the tale all too well. (The troops congratulated Mick on his research, planning and guiding but reckoned that he needs to improve his motivational approach! - he calls them wimps!) Menin Gate and dinner in Ypres again at night.

In the morning we visited the grave of one of Mick's WA friends and a rather sombre German cemetery, before lunch in Ypres and off to Lille where we returned the car and said 'Goodbye' to Brendan who headed back to Paris and home while we turned towards Amsterdam!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

From Paris to the Somme – The Somme Battlefields

Sat June 28th – Monday Morning June 30 th

From Paris to the Somme – The Somme Battlefields

A few hassles with Europcar – the longest line ever and a very small car! - but we squeezed in and were out of Paris with no incidents. The run up the A1 took about two and a half hours and we found our lodgings easily. A lovely ex-railway station on a one hectare block near Montauban de Picardie. Delightfully rural, green and gold, warm and with the most wonderful light especially in the evenings.

I won't attempt to do justice to the Somme there is so much that has been written. We have greatly appreciated simply being here and seeing such a lovely place. It is impossible to appreciate the horrors of the War but walking the ground certainly enriches and develops your understanding. Mick's approach to the campaign with meticuluous planning, maps, books daily troop briefings and efforts to urge on the flagging troops were miles better than Herbert Gough ever achieved.

There are only a few photos for you here because the don't mean so much until you walk he ground and get it in your head. We walked Pozieres, Mouquet farm, Tiepval, Beaumont-Hamel and visited Mick's grandmother's brother's grave at Warloi. Also Villers-Brettoneux, le Hamel Mont St. Quentin and Bullecourt as well as many cemetries. It has been a wonderful experience which we will look back on for many years. a true privilege to be here!

Paris Apartment -