February 13, 2009

Europe In 30 Days - A Sunday Drive through the Countryside

Today we had planned to go to Brugge, but after being a part of the "First" day of the after Christmas sales yesterday in Antwerpen, Stijn knows that Brugge would offer some more of the same. So we decided that we would save Brugge for another day.

Stijn has suggested that we drive out to the area where he grew up, Moorsele. I think this is a wonderful idea and it gives me an opportunity to see a part of Belgium that probably most visitors never have the chance to experience. And besides, it is good and cold today so it's the perfect day to sight see from the car!

We head about 70 miles out of Brussels to the more northwestern part of the Flanders Region. The countryside is absolutely beautiful with its farm land and rolling hills. We drive through so many quaint villages and I am pointing out to Stijn every cute little brick house that we pass.

But more interesting and certainly more surreal is discovering all of the WWI cemeteries that can't seem to help but remind you of what happened in this region during the "Great War". Now you must understand that this is all "News" to me. I had no idea that in this area of Belgium so many battles were fought during this War.

We stop at the Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, one of the many cemeteries in this region and take a walk in silence through the numerous white headstones and pay our respects.

Knowing that I like to cycle, Stijn wants to show me Mt Kemmelberg. This is part of the 200 mile route that the Gent-Wevelgem race covers each year. Looking at the cobblestone over the steepest part of this route at about a 20% grade and trying to imagine riding down this was quite impressive, but at the bottom of this summit once again I am reminded of the battles that were fought here when I see a monument that is dedicated to the French soldiers who fought in the Great War.

Well it's time for a little snack break so we stop in the village of Kemmel and settle in at Het Labyrinth and order a platter of cheeses and pate, and I want another Irish coffee to warm me up. This is the cutest place with wooden floors and high ceilings. I spent the entire time admiring all of the antique collectibles that were displayed and that covered every inch of the walls. At every table there were antique game boards that you could play while enjoying your meal. After a bit the waitress came by with a basket she was carrying and had us pick out one of those little puzzles that have two pieces interlocked and you have to figure out how to get them apart. So of course we had to try and master that immediately.

We are now ready for a little more exploring and Stijn knows just the place to take me to top off my day. We drive a very short distance and we are in Ieper . Okay people, I now know where I want to live in Belgium!!! Ieper (or Ypers) is a beautiful medieval city with amazing architecture, cobbled streets and a magnificent Grote Markt (square) that is dominated by The Lakenhalle (cloth market). The Grote Markt is lined with restaurants, bakeries, waffle vendors, souvenir shops and most importantly, chocolatiers. How does one choose which little chocolatier shop to go into....the one with the "huge" chocolate covered cherries with stems still attached displayed in the window, that's how!

But the past history of this storybook town begins to take over as soon as we come upon the Menen Gate. This is a huge memorial arch at the entrance of Ieper and is dedicated to the 54,896 soldiers who were missing in action after the battle of Ieper in WWI. Stijn and I stood in amazement while reading the names of the soldiers under the roof and on the walls. Every day at 8:00pm the "The Last Post" is played as a tribute to the fallen soldiers.

It is so hard to imagine after seeing such beautiful scenery, an area so peaceful and quiet, with its canals and bell towers, its windmills and grazing cows, that no other area in the country of Belgium is as drenched in blood as this one. This area called Westhoek was the most horrible battleground of World War I were tens of thousands of young men from England, Germany, France, Canada and Australia met their deaths.

Our day has come to an end and as we head back to Brussels I reflect on all that I saw and learned today. I can't help but think this day sure gives new meaning to the phrase "Taking a Sunday Drive".

If you would like to see more pictures of our day please go to Wheres Debbie and click on the album "Belgium Countryside"

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