Photo — Dominic Rivetti
Ypres, Belgium, is a city with a past. That it is a city at all is an incredible story in itself. Almost entirely devastated, blown and flattened to rubble during the Great War of 1914 to 1918, its proud and undeterred people returned and rebuilt, brick-by-brick, in its entirety.
During the middle ages, the city of Ypres was a prestigious trading center, one of the premier Flemish cloth centers next to Bruges and Ghent.
Its impressive and imposing Cloth Hall and St. Martin's Cathedral as well as its ramparts were rebuilt after World War I with complete respect for the past.
Between October 1914 and October 1918, the battlefield of World War I was positioned a mile or two from the center of this lovely little city.
Trenches were built in a curve from north to south around the city. Five of the bloodiest battles in history were fought in the notorious Ypres Salient.
There are more than 150 military cemeteries and monuments in and around the city, as a consequence and a permanent reminder of the futility of war.
I visited Ypres for an overnight, en-route from Bruges to Calais. In Flanders Fields Museum was a must-see. The exhausting struggle in the trenches, first gas attacks, political alliances and consequences for daily lives of soldiers and civilians have been immortalized in a world-class museum that incorporates connection with surrounding landscape with the horrifying impact the war years left on both people and place.
Individual witnesses, performed and filmed for haunting life-size cinematic installations bring the past to chilling life for today's visitors to the area.
Last Post at the Menin Gate has played each and every day at 8pm under its impressive arches, since 1928.
On July 9th, 2015, one year into 100 Anniversary commemorations for those perished in World War I, between 1914 and 1918, the 30,000th "Last Post" was sounded.
World War I was the first true global conflict. Victims from more than 50 countries are buried in Flanders, Belgium. The Menin Gate was built in honor of over 54,000 missing commonwealth soldiers who never received a burial.
It was absolutely stunning to stand beneath this hallowed gate and contemplate the magnitude of lost souls, prior to the haunting bugles of the Last Post Association sounding.
Names are engraved in Portland Stone panels fixed to the inner walls of the central Hall of Memory, to the sides of the staircases leading from the lower level to the upper exterior level, and on the walls inside the loggias on the north and south sides of the building.
Hundreds gather each and every evening, all seasons, whatever the weather.
He's come back, all mirth and glory, Like the prince in a fairy story. Winter called him far away; Blossoms bring him home with May.
"At Daybreak" by Siegfried Sassoon
The various memorial sites in Flanders are quite close to one another and easily accessible by car, train, foot or bicycle. In planning a visit to the region, there are also lots of organized day tours to take once situated.
Check out the website www.flandersfields for an idea of the range of options available to visitors.
If you have a personal interest in finding the fallen in your family heritage, click here to take a look at the website of the Flanders Fields Museum for more info on the Belgian civilians and soldiers who died there.
For those who aren't able to visit Flanders but would like to commemorate a victim of WWI during the Centennial, click here to plant a poppy from now through 2018 to create a worldwide online poppy field, on Facebook.
If you do go, I recommend modern, efficient, family-owned Hotel Restaurant Ariane, in Ypres. I booked last minute and was lucky to find rooms, given that it was a Belgian holiday weekend on the night of my stay.
An easy hour and a half cycle ride (each way) out of busy Bruges and over the bucolic, flat as a pancake Belgian border into the Netherlands proved a welcome respite from summer season masses during a few days stay in the picturesque medieval city.
After three or four miles of comfortable peddling on a bike route alongside the Napoleancanal that connects a string of Flemish port towns, windmills and cafes of 15th Century Damme called for a first pit-stop for coffee and water and a walk around its lovely little town center.
Damme was an important town in the medieval period, serving as the outer harbor for Bruges in its trading heyday as the New York of its era, ships loaded and unloaded their cargo until 1520, at which point its inlet silted over.
Sluis, the last harbor for Bruges, is also cut off from the sea, nowadays. It was established as a town in 1290. In 1382, the Count of Flanders, Louis Van Male fortified the town with a castle that survived until 1820. Walls that encircled the entire town have long since crumbled, but there remains a strong sense of historical identity when approaching this Flemish community from surrounding countryside, today.
In the late 18th century, Damme had various waterways and canals running alongside each other, but navigation was practically impossible. The Bruges-Damme-Sluis route was been non-navigable for many years.
French warlord Napoléon Bonaparte, unable to travel in the North Sea, was determined to link Dunkirk and Antwerp, his two naval ports.
It was Napoleon's idea to construct a canal to connect Bruges with Damme and Sluis. Spanish prisoners-of-war began initial digging in 1812.
One of the most refreshing aspects of my family's group cycle ride was moments of complete solitude in this quiet countryside. Cycle routes sometimes extended into regular roadways. Mostly, it was other family groups and people of all ages peddling along in each direction, many for practical transportation and in everyday clothes, hardly a tour-de-France cycling kit in sight.
After a Flemish lunch in Sluis and a wander through its flower basket bedecked town center, there wasn't an awful lot to keep us from heading back along the scenic canal (where we spotted several wild water long distance swimmers) for evening time in beautiful Bruges.
Tastiest day in town! Sample all that Petaluma’s famous culinary scene has to offer in one afternoon. Over 60 of the region's finest chefs, food purveyors, wineries and breweries are readying to tempt you with their gourmet offerings.
Ticket packages (10 tastings) are available for $40 starting at 10:30 AM at the event at Putnam Plaza (129 Petaluma Blvd. N.).
Tickets will be for sale on Saturday, August 22nd at 10:30 AM at Putnam Plaza, on Petaluma Boulevard in the heart of restaurant row in downtown Petaluma.
If you run out of tickets during the day and want more, you can get them in Putnam Plaza, Velvet Ice Collections - 140 2nd Street in Theater Square, and at Serren's Closet - 213 Western Ave.
Advance tickets are to be picked up at WILL CALL at Helen Putnam Plaza (129 Petaluma Blvd. North) after 10:30 AM on the day of the event.
Your Ticket Package Includes:
• Strip of 10 dine-around tickets - One sampling item per ticket.
You can purchase more tickets throughout the day if you like for $4 each.
• Street Map of sampling locations
• Menu of food and special events offered by participants
• Taste of Petaluma tote bag to first 1000 guests
Provided is a plastic wine / beer tasting glass, but you are welcome to bring your own wine glass or beer tasting glass from home
Tickets are non-refundable.
This event is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater, a 501(c)(3) California non-profit.
"Who is staring at the sea is already sailing a little."
First port-of-call after passing uneventfully over the border from France into Belgium was the West Flanders seaside town of De Panne. Home to the longest tramline in the world, The Belgium Coast Tram, running since 1885, runs from the De Panne on the French Border to Knokke-Heist, said to be the San Tropez of the region, on the Dutch border.
For six Euros a person, tram riders merrily hop on and off over a 38 mile route that packs in Dutch and Germans in summertime, but apparently not too many British or American travelers. Imagine that — one charming young waiter in a beach-front restaurant we stopped in at for lunch declared us his very first from the U.S.
Having spent my childhood summers squashed into my parents' station wagon (estate car in Brit speak) alongside my three siblings directly en-route to sun-drenched, fondly remembered camping holidays by the beaches of the South of France, a left turn at Calais from the Eurotunnel, along the North Sea was a first for me.
My British/Italian/American family of five and our oldest son's girlfriend were reuniting in the Flemish medieval city of Bruges for a five-night vacation-within-a-vacation. My youngest, London-based sister and her two daughters were joining us for two of those days.
Seeings as we weren't necessarily in search of elusive sunshine on our travels, coming from 100 degree heat at home, we'd quite fancied the more typically moderate North European summertime climate for a few days respite. As it turned out, it was hot and humid the entire time, except for one spectacular evening thunderstorm with lightening and rain.
We walked the wide and pleasant promenade of De Panne, taking in rows of neat little beach huts in various hues, following a light lunch of croquettes, croque monsieur, frites and the first of oh, maybe quite a few samplings of the roughly 800 Belgian beers on the market today.
An hour later we'd navigated (with the help of a GPS system in the rental car) a maze of medieval streets to find our temporary home-from-home, a beautiful second-floor 15th Century, beamed apartment in the center of Bruges.
Meandering canals, cobbled streets and immaculately preserved Flemish architecture provide a picture-perfect city break made for walking and/or cycling.
Summertime crowds aside, to stand in the heart of the city in the Markt, or market place, dominated by the towering Belfort, a medieval brick belfry made famous in recent years by the film In Bruges, is a bucket-list moment for international art, history, chocolate, beer and culture lovers alike.
Belgium produces over 220,000 tons of chocolates a year, I wondered how many tons it produces of its national dish, moules frites — briny mussels served in a large saucepan with a bowl of comforting salty fries with homemade mayo. Flemish beef stew's every bit as popular, both a staple of every menu in the city's hundreds of restaurants, the best of which, are the neighborhood eateries, on a myriad of streets off the central plazas and beyond.
My favorite backstreet find was this delectable little (and provenly delicious) Transylvanian-style "Chimney Cake" pastry shop.
Sorry to say we're not much of a chocoholic family, so the top-notch chocolate shops, though eye candy enough, failed to entice in the same way as the tempting Trappist ales, mussels, stews and another Belgian speciality — waffles.
Wednesday morning is market day in Bruges. The three most popular varieties of Belgian waffles are: Liege waffles, Brussels waffles, larger, lighter, rectangular and enjoyed with chocolate, whipped cream, strawberries or ice cream and slimmer, softer, breakfast Galettes.
Belgium boasts many of Europe's most outstanding collections of visual art. Fifteenth Century artists — Flemish Primitives, Old Masters Hubert, Jan van Eyck, Quentin Matsys, Hans Memling and Rogier van der Weyden were the first to popularize the use of oil paint.
I particularly appreciated learning more about the history of ‘Flemish tapestry’, Belgium being the principal centre for tapestry weaving at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Today, the cities of Bruges, and Ghent are magnets for modern day artists from around the world. Wandering residential areas of Bruges was every bit as captivating, culturally, thanks to the artistic residents of such an enchanting and inspiring place.
"A country like Belgium, or socialist countries in central Europe spend more money on art education than the United States, which is a really puzzling thought".
In May 1624, "Nieu Nederlandt", a ship chartered by the West India Company, arrived in sight of Manhattan Island. The ship carried around 30 Belgian families, no short irony that they founded New York given that the medieval city of Bruges was, in fact, the Manhattan metropolis of its day.
Bruges’ beauty saved this architectural treasure trove from being destroyed in WWII, when German Commander Immo Hopman reportedly refused to carry out orders from his superiors to bomb the city.
Part Two — Cycling From Belgium to Holland, to follow.
In the 25 years that I've lived in California, lots of things have changed in my native UK and throughout the European continent. Not always for the better, we hear, but in so many ways, I continue to be amazed and enthralled at the many advancements and developments in Britain and neighboring countries.
One of which, The Channel Tunnel (Eurotunnel), was completed four years after I'd left for the States. Though most of my immediate family members have traveled from London to Paris and/or Brussels on various occasions over the past few years, via Eurostar Train, I'd somehow managed to miss out on any underground cross-channel experience, myself.
Not to be confused, the 31.4 mile long Eurotunnel provides the fastest route from Folkestone, England to Calais, France or the other way around, by car, or other vehicle. Drivers and their passengers actually drive onto the train and stay in their vehicle for the super fast half an hour journey.
Eurostar, on the other hand provides passenger rail service from several train stations in the UK, Belgium and France, including St.Pancras, London and Ashford, Kent. A London to Paris journey takes around two and a half hours.
The first step in planning to take the tunnel as visiting Americans is figuring out which rental car companies allow vehicles to be taken out of the country. Be sure to read the fine print whenever you rent a car abroad (or in the U.S. for that matter) and research requirements as to any of that pesky additional coverage that you might actually need, or not.
I opted for a Europcar 16 day rental out of London Heathrow. Prices vary wildly online, so do your homework and stick with it until you find the right car at a reasonable price. Service at Europcar Heathrow was excellent, a refreshing change of pace from most other recent car rentals when traveling in the States and overseas. If you're comfortable with a stick shift, you'll save mega dollars on a rental.
A Europdrive package was the only add-on necessary, providing road side assistance and proof of ownership of vehicle as required in the EU for $75.
Eurotunnel services had recently been hit by strikes and migrants desperate to enter the UK, targeting trucks for weeks and causing mayhem for hauliers, holidaymakers and locals, either side of the Channel.
Sangatte, a refugee camp half a mile from the French terminal near Calais, holds up to 700 refugees, mostly Kurds from Iraq, and Afghans.
I had no idea what to expect, in that we might have had trouble making our crossing. We experienced no delay, either way. Still, the ease and comfort of our journey was poignant to my family. Our thoughts were with those who continue to put themselves through unbelievable peril in their hopes to penetrate the tunnel to reach Great Britain.
First week of my 2015 trip back to the homeland consisted of cramming in as much time as possible with mums and dad, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces and cousins of my family's combined European clans.
No short order. Pit-stops in pubs, cafes and farm shop restaurants made for happy little excursions outside of the various abodes on our family tour.
The Tobie Norris, in historic Stamford, Lincolnshire, located just a few miles from my parents' home, dates back to 1280. Steep staircases, wobbly floors, rustic antiques, velvet covered seating, best of British pub food and real ales made for one of my favorite watering holes in the region.
If you're traveling the UK and headed north from London to York, make Stamford a stop in your itinerary. Frequently named as one of the best places to live in Britain, this beautiful, Georgian market town is well worth an overnight (with time for a visit to Elizabethan era Burghley House).
Following Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, a couple of nights' stay in the capital called for a boat ride on the river with my sister and nieces and a visit to the Tower of London. Not to be confused with London Bridge (photographed from the Tower), tours of the fortress Tower that houses the Crown Jewels never fail to enthrall — highlight this time was my four-year-old niece surprising me with her impromptu recital from memory of the correct order and names of Henry VIII's six wives, as we walked in. My sister is a teacher and a history buff, but still . . .
Yoemen of the Guard and Tower staff live within the compound of this 1,000 year old royal fortress, today. Lovely in summertime, but I'd imagine it a bit spooky as digs on a cold, dark, winters night. The tower is said to be haunted, not surprisingly, Anne Boleyn, for one.
Further south in our family's roadmap of England, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law's home territory takes in sleepy and remote Sussex countryside. Sleepy today, but not in its storied past. Their village home is positioned on a hedgerow-flanked lane between the historic towns of Battle and Hastings. 1066 land.
After a bloody battle lasting over nine hours from dawn until dusk, October 14th, 1066, William of Normandy defeated King Harold of England on a battlefield 8 miles from Hastings — the Battle of Hastings, one of the best-known and most decisive events in England's history, the victory of William, Duke of Normandy and the death of Harold, King of England, were crucial to the success of the Norman Conquest.
The battlefield, devoid of modern development, owes its survival to the founding by King William ‘the Conqueror’ of the Benedictine Battle Abbey on the site as penance for the bloodshed and to commemorate his victory. Much of the battlefield became part of the abbey's great park, which formed the nucleus of a country estate after the suppression of the abbey in 1538.
The seaside town of Hastings itself was popularized recently in the States, as location of World War II detective drama, Foyle's War.
Fresh Fish and Chips on the seashore were order of the day during our brief visit. Hastings is home to a charming old town center, full of independent book shops, cafes, pubs, antique stores and art galleries and is enjoying a regentrification boost as British holiday makers and weekenders look to explore more of the country's rich heritage.
I love a farm shop. English farm shops are especially good at serving up a cream tea or full English breakfast, complete with china cups and saucers.
This was my first visit to Rye, an exquisite old town in East Sussex, home of BBC's Mapp and Lucia a few miles inland from the coast. Its gorgeous, old Mermaid Inn (where we stopped for a glass of Pimms on its tiny terrace) was built for a visit by Queen Elizabeth I and still presides on a cobblestone street in the center of town.