What’s to say about Ypres except that it is a lovely City (and of course, almost totally rebuilt since WW1). There’s much to see (the Menin Gate, the Ypres Cloth Hall, St Maarten’s Cathedral, etc) but after walking my legs stiff I most enjoyed just sitting and people watching outside the very popular St Arnoldus Bar while drinking a selection of local beers – and very nice the beers were too.
The Menin Gate (lists the names of 50,000+ British & Commonwealth servicemen who fell at Ypres and whose bodies have not been recovered; a further 30,000+ are listed at Tyne Cot)
Ypres Cloth Hall in 2017…
… as opposed to in 1911 and 1919
St Maarten’s Cathedral
By the way, thanks to Will for setting up a trip advisor in my name. I will comment on the St Arnoldus in detail once I learn how to use trip advisor.
Meanwhile I attach a photo of the bar together with one of some of the beers I tried. They serve them 4 at a time and these were all between 8% and 10%. Now that is a pub!
Towards the end of the evening I decided to return to the Van via a circuit of the city walls. I got lost but stumbled, quite literally, across another British cemetery (Ramparts Cemetery; they are everywhere) and, on an altogether brighter note, a road sign showing the way to my next stop, Lille.
“I recognise the Gate – the Van is somewhere near here”
“That’ll do for tomorrow”
Leaving Kortrijk I set the sat-nav back to the town of Ypres, around which I had detoured on my way from Calais. However, signposts to the Australian Cemetery at Polygon Wood and the British Cemetery at Tyne Cot soon saw me divert from my planned route – and glad I was too.
This small part of Flanders has many, many cemeteries (large and small) which are the final resting places of tens of thousands of WW1 servicemen who fought three major battles and countless skirmishes in the area between 1914 and 1918 (Tyne Cot Cemetery alone holds the remains of 12,000 plus soldiers of which two thirds are unidentified) and a visit here could very easily be upsetting except that I found the attitude of the locals to be very uplifting.
Buttes New British Cemetery (near Polygon Wood)
Memorial Cross, Polygon Wood Cemetery
Entrance to Tyne Cot
I met two Belgians near the Polygon Wood Cemetery. The first has a smallholding in the area and he spent some time explaining how the locals feel about the cemeteries. Thereafter he insisted I meet his pet donkey “Little Tommy” and then, best of all, he introduced me to a second local, Johan Vandewalle who owns the “De Dreve” Bar.
In addition to running a very pleasant bar Johan Vandewalle has, with items collected from the local battlefields, turned the “De Dreve” into a mini museum commemorating Australia 5th Division activities in the area during the war. Moreover, he is almost single handedly driving what he calls the Brothers In Arms Memorial Project and it is a fascinating story which came to light after he unearthed the bodies of 5 WW1 soldiers in 2006 in the nearby hamlet of Westhoek. One of the soldiers was an Australian Private 3504 John Hunter but… I’ll not go into detail here. You can look it up on his website (www.brothersinarmsmemorial.org) if you are so inclined.
Johan’s Vision & Labour of Love
Johan at work
Another reason to visit De Dreve
One final picture before I set off to the town of Ypres…
“Little Tommy” (i.e. Tommekke in Flemish)
Ypres, here I come…
Yesterday went like a whirl. Any apprehension I felt about this Tour was replaced by excitement the moment I reached France.
As mentioned yesterday, the journey from Calais to Kortrijk went well and I crossed the border into Belgium (at L’Abeele) more smoothly than Napoleon Bonaparte did in 1815 – there was no border presence at all and if it weren’t for the road signs changing from French to Flemish I wouldn’t have known I had entered Belgium.
Kortrijk appeared almost empty as I arrived early on the Sunday afternoon and I was able to park the Van in the centre of the town (N50,83120 E3,26818) without any difficulty and take a quick walk around before dinner. There’s a significant amount of regeneration going on in the centre (especially by the River Lys – sorry, that’s the River Leie in Flemish) but the balance between old and new appears to be working.
The town became even quieter as it got dark but the next morning was totally different. I was up early, looking for an early start towards Ypres but a local market was being set up in Kortrijk’s two major squares and I sat for a full hour with hot coffee and croissants watching while the locals noisily set out their stalls with local produce. Freshly baked bread, cheese, cold meats & fresh fish seemed the order of the day. I sampled a few cheeses before driving back down the road I came in on towards Ypres.
… and you can tell by the photo that I was up early.