Friday, October 31, 2008

Meeting a Halloween witch …

Legends tell of witches gathering twice a year when the seasons changed, on April 30 - the eve of May Day and the other on the eve of October 31 - All Hallow's Eve.

The witches gather on these nights, arriving on broomsticks, to celebrate a party hosted by the devil. Superstitions tell of witches casting spells on unsuspecting people, transform themselves into different forms and causing other magical mischief.

To meet a witch you have to put your clothes on wrong side out and you have to walk backwards on Halloween night. Then at midnight you see a witch … at least that’s what I did …

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hooge Crater War Museum

After my visit to the Hooge Crater Cemetery yesterdag, I just had to cross the Menin Road to visit the small private Hooge Crater War Museum, located in a renovated chapel. I has a nice collection of item from the first World War and offers a good insight of life at the fronline.

The museum and the cemetery were named after a crater which was created on July 19th 1915, when British Engineers exploded a mine of 3500 lbs of ammonal under a fortefied German position at Hooge.

Is it a coincidence that my friend Frog is travellin' in the same region these days?
He is visiting cemeteries too!
I'll try to get in touch with him ...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hooge Crater Cemetery

Another day, another cemetery … Today I visited Hooge Crater Cemetery, 4 kilometres east of Ypres town centre. 5,892 soldiers are either buried or commemorated in the cemetery, some 60% of which are unknown. It was started during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917 by the British 7th Division's Burial Officer and extended after the war.

 Here you find Film Footage of Hooge Crater Cemetery.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Menin Road South Military Cemetery

Last weekend I visited Menin Road South Military Cemetery, a Commonwealth War Graves Commission burial ground for the dead of World War I.

It’s a rather small cemetery with ‘only’ 1.658 burials,

 located just outside Ypres. There are hundreds of cemeteries of the Great War in this region. More than 500.000 soldiers were killed in the region of Ypres during World War I.

I was very moved by all these graves of young soldiers … brought me in a subdued mood.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Walkin’ under the Menin Gate Memorial, you see lots of flowers to remember the fallen soldiers of the Great War. One kind flower is very prominent … poppies, the symbol of remembrance of war. 

It is the contradictory symbol of the peaceful flower-filled fields of Flanders where the dead lay buried under the ground where war was waged. Its colour is also a reminder of the blood that was spilled in those battles.

In Flanders fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

This poem (do you remember the museum I visited last Sunday?) was written by John McCrae upon a scrap of paper upon the back of Colonel Lawrence Cosgrave in the trenches during a lull in the bombings on May 3, 1915, after he witnessed the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, the day before.

John McCrae's verse had forever bound the image of the Red Poppy to the memory of the Great War. The poppy was eventually adopted by the British and Canadian Legions as the symbol of remembrance of World War One and a means of raising funds for disabled veterans.

Within’ the next few days, particularly in the week before November, the 11th (Remembrance Day), people all over the world – but especially in the U.K, the U.S. and Canada – will buy and wear a poppy as an act of remembrance to fallen soldiers at war.

I'll wear it proudly !

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Menin Gate Memorial

Leavin’ Ypres I passed through the impressive Menin Gate Memorial, perhaps the most visited Great War Memorial on the Western Front. The Menin Gate marked the start of one of the main roads out of Ypres towards the front line and tens of thousands of men must have passed through it and onwards along the infamous Menin Road, so many of them never to return.

The Menin Gate Memorial contains, inside and out, huge panels into which are carved the names of the 54,896 officers and men of the commonwealth forces who died in the Ypres Salient area and who have no known graves. This figure, however, does not represent all of the missing from this area. It was found that the Menin Gate, immense though it is, was not large enough to hold the names of all the missing. The names recorded on the gate's panels are those of men who died in the area between the outbreak of the war in 1914 and 15th August, 1917. The names of a further 34,984 of the missing - those who died between 16th August, 1917 and the end of the war, are recorded on carved panels at Tyne Cot Cemetery, on the slopes just below Passchendaele

Every evening since 1928 at precisely 8pm, the Last Post, the traditional salute to the fallen warrior, is played under Ypres' Menin Gate Memorial. The ceremony takes place every day of the year, whatever the weather. This daily tribute, performed by a team of local buglers, honours the memory of the soldiers of the British Empire who fought and died in the region during the First World War. 

Hear an extract from the daily ceremony under the Menin Gate: Last Post (180Kb MP3)

Belgian chocolates in Ypres

I must confess I didn’t come back to Belgium only to see some of the nice places of my own country on this world trip. To be honest … I longed for some fine Belgian chocolate after being for more than two years away from home.
I have been on the five continents now, and had some good beers outsides Belgium (the beer in Prague was excellent!), but nowhere in the world you find these fine chocolates as in Belgium … and in Ypres it’s full of excellent chocolate shops (not only for all the tourists from all over the world visiting Ypres but also for chocolate-addicted rats like me).
Ypres and its surroundings is a chocolate lover’s paradise … so I could not resist buying some and, although we rats are not the cat’s best friends, I opted for some cat shaped chocolates as the cat is the symbol of Ypres, well known for it’s yearly Kattenstoet or Cats Parade.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

In Flanders Fields Museum

Today I visited the museum ‘In Flanders Fields’. I am very impressed and moved by what I saw today. In Flanders Fields Museum takes you back to the Great War of 1914-1918. You experience history at first hand as a soldier or a nurse, as an inhabitant of Ypres or as a refugee… You not only witness with your own eyes the destruction of a whole region and the atrocities this war brought about but you will also experience the hope and resurrection of a city like Ypres. Quotations show you what people lived through and how they felt during the Great War. Sometimes they speak to you from screens, sometimes you have to read their words on panels.

When you enter the In Flanders Field Museum, you receive a keycard which represents the identity of a person who lived during the Great War. I was Marie Curie whom I know since I visited the Marie Curie Museum in her birthplace in Ulica Freta when I was in Warsaw last year.
When the war breaks out, Marie Curie was already an influential figure. She and her daughter Irène decided to use their knowledge for the benefit of war victims. They fit out vans with radiological equipment, and train the staff who are to use them. They also equip campaign hospitals, which are placed behind the front lines. Marie Curie was in Veurne from December 1914 onwards. In January 1915 she was in Poperinge, where she has radiological equipment set up in the hospital that is accommodated in a country mansion.

It was a very moving day for me … the next few days I want to learn more of the Great War and it significance for this region …

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Cloth Hall of Ypres

Here I am in front of the imposing Cloth Hall of Ypres that was built in the 13th century and was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages. The structure which stands today is the exact copy of the original medieval building, rebuilt after the war. The whole complex was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

By 1918 almost nothing remained of the city of Ypres, because it was in the middle of the frontline between the German and the Allied Armies. Ypres was bombed to pieces and almost wiped off the face of the earth.Ypres these days has the title of "city of peace" and maintains a close friendship with another town on which war had a profound impact: Hiroshima. The association may be regarded as somewhat gruesome because both towns witnessed warfare at its worst: Ypres was one of the first places where chemical warfare was employed, while Hiroshima suffered the debut of nuclear warfare. 

In Ypres, the Great War is always just one step away.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back in Belgium ...

Yesterday it is exactly one year ago since I arrived in London. Since then London has been my home base. I made trips to California (with Robin), to Bamberg, Amsterdam and Australia (with Adam & Joe), to Prague (with Katie) and to Kenya and Tanzania (with Uncle Julian) …but in between I always came back to London.

Well, I like London very much. In fact I spent a lot of time wandering around in London and recently, while staying with Uncle Julian, I discovered London Docklands and Canary Wharf, which is just magnificent for a small rat like me.
But still … after all these months on this island, I kept dreamin’ of travelin’ on.
After all, my mission was … to see the world!

So, yesterday I decided to move on. I kissed Uncle Julian goodbye (thanks for bringin’ me to Africa and your kind hospitality, it has been good to know you), went to St Pancras International and bought myself a ticket for the Eurostar to Lille (France). Lille is close to the Belgium border … so I decided to go to … Belgium.

No, mom & dad … I am not coming home to Vlezenbeek !!! Not yet! There are still more than 10 months to go ... But travellin’ through the different continents I realized that I hardly have seen my own country. Yes, last year I have been shortly in Ghent, but to be honest … most of my life I spent in Vlezenbeek. So I thought it was time to explore my own country for a few weeks … on my own.

So from Lille I took the train to Ypres … and that is where I am now. Here you see me in front of the Court of Justice on the Market Square of Ypres. There are lots of things to see in and around Ypres and history is all around … you’ll here from me soon.