YpresNovember 21, 2017 in Belgium
After successfully taking Poppy to the vet at Tournai, we headed towards Ypres and the Flemish speaking area of Belgium. It had gone lunch time so we stopped along the way for our last trip to a Belgian frituur before returning to the UK. The standard of frites across the country really is excellent, Belgian expectations must be very exacting!
As we drew closer to Ypres we passed a number of war cemeteries, their identical oblong or crucifix shaped gravestones standing erect in neat rows. Our parking place for the night was in a communal car park near a swimming pool, skate park and sports stadium. Regular groups of school kids trooped along on the other side of the hedge to access the facilities. Will met another British couple travelling in their motorhome who told him they used to park on the quiet residential street every time they came over from Calais, but now signs had been put up to prohibit this.
Crossing a footbridge over the moat and ducking through a tunnel in the town wall we made our way up Ypres' narrow residential streets, lined with terraced houses of different types of brick. Grote Markt square suddenly revealed itself as we rounded a corner. We were taken aback by the large open space dominated by the towering Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall), that appeared rather like a massive cathedral with its sculpted stone facade and gothic steeples. It was really refreshing to see an old building of such grandeur that was built for something other than religious worship.
The square was surrounded by tea rooms, bars, chocolate and souvenir shops. We'd not seen many poppies in the rest of Belgium, but there were plenty of them here, where so many tourists come to remember the war. They even had chocolate poppies. Despite having the feeling of a big city at its core, Ypres is only a large town. On streets leading away from the centre, the shops soon turn to homes or offices and we looped back to the compact central area several times.
This being our last full day in Belgium, we were on a mission to buy chocolate amd Trappist beer to take home. Two chocolate shops standing side by side offered free tastings, so we sampled each and chose the better, where we happened to come accross a fellow Brit and an Australian couple standing in line. We found it a little strange to have so many people talking English as their first language, we hope we acclimatise quickly when we get back to the UK! The chocolatier was very friendly, as was the owner of the beer shop we visited, who helped us pick out some good bottles from their wide selection. She told us she had found the sudden deluge of customers around 11th November, then the quiet afterwards, difficult to deal with. We are glad we got to see the town in one of its subdued periods.
Walking back to the van we passed Menin Gate, the large stone archway that bears the names of British and Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies were never recovered.
We liked Ypres for its quiet square, magnificent Cloth Hall and the green belt of land running alongside its moat. We did however find its huge focus on the pointless loss of foreign lives a century ago, quashed organic local culture, which is one of the things we most enjoy experiencing when we travel.Read more