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Travel Experience – Belgium and Flanders Fields
By Jacinta Anderson
In late May I was privileged to attend an amazing trip to Belgium to learn about the Flanders Region along with the beautiful canal cities of Bruges and Ghent. 2017 commemorates 100 years since the WW1 battle in this area.
It was a hugely emotional trip not only learning about the WW1 history but also to have personal interest in it as my Great Grandfather fought in WWI in Flanders Fields and the northern region of France. I also represented the family of one of my best friends and was able to place a poppy and cross at Menin Gate where her Great Uncles name stands with many other names of Australians who lost their lives in battle and whose bodies were not found.
We started our trip in the Belgium’s capital, Brussels where I was introduced to Belgian Beer, chocolates and pastry, what more can I say.
From Brussels we headed north west by road to the best preserved medieval city in Europe, Bruges. It is a beautiful canal city classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site where every corner you turn reveals another picture postcard moment. It is such a warm and friendly place. A walking tour incorporating a canal cruise is a must do, during our walking tour we visited the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Museum of our Lady) which houses a valuable art collection including Michelangelo’s world-famous Madonna & Child.
After our stay in Bruges we then headed south to the Flanders Fields region where enroute we made a quick visit to Poperinge to visit Talbot House which was a recreational facility for the troops during their rare R&R breaks. We also made a quick visit to the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery which is the second largest Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemetery in Flanders
We continued on to our base in the Flanders region, the small Flemish city of Ypres (Ieper). This charming city was reduced to a pile of rubble during WW1, being almost completely destroyed by 4 years of war. The people of Ypres have however succeeded in faithfully rebuilding the city, brick by brick to its former glory. The city has a medieval feel but is essentially only 90 years old. After a short walking tour, we then made a visit to the “In Flanders Fields Museum”. It is a very modern, interactive museum which tells the stories of ordinary people caught up in the war but is also very confronting.
A must for any visitors to Ypres is attending the very moving Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate which has been held each and every night since 1928. The Last Post is sounded at 8pm sharp in remembrance of the sacrifice of so many during WW1.
During our stay we followed in the footsteps of the Anzacs who fought in the region in WW1 in 1917. We visited Hill 60, the town of Messines, Christmas Truce Memorial and Toronto Avenue Cemetery which is a special place for Australia’s to visit being the only all Australian cemetery in Belgium.
We then visited the Memorial Museum in Passchendaele. The Battle of Passchendaele was one of the bloodiest battles and most devastating faced by the Anzacs in WW1. October 1917 is still the worst month in terms of loss of life in any war for Australia, for this reason Australia will always share deep ties with Flanders & Belgium. We followed the museum with a visit to Polygon Wood and Tyne Cot Cemetery which both have memorials to Australian soldiers.
Saying goodbye to Flanders, we headed north east to Ghent which is often regarded as Europe’s best kept secret. It is another gorgeous medieval canal city which is dominated by the 12th century Gravansteen Castle right in the city centre. Ghent’s museums feature some well known artworks including the most stolen piece of art in Europe, the Ghent Altarpiece (as seen in the movie “The Monuments Men”.
From Ghent I headed back to Brussels by rail and then back up to Amsterdam for my flight home.
I would well recommend a visit to Belgium if travelling to Europe and especially if you have any family WW1 history. It is very easy to get around by rail or car, the countryside is beautiful and cities along the way are charming and inviting in so many ways.