Brexit Day loomed, the French customs officials were working to rule, the gillets jaune were protesting every weekend; what could possibly go wrong?
In the event, nothing.
A quick trip on the Eurostar to Lille was marred only by the astonishingly noisy businessman booming at his companion on the table in front of us. At least he didn’t spend the whole journey on his mobile phone. And after a quick transfer we were soon headed through horribly British wet, windy and grey weather towards our destination, Brugge, the capital of Western Flanders.
We were captivated by this lovely medieval city with its beautiful buildings, canals and cobbled walkways. The locals were unfailingly friendly and good-humoured; I suppose you would be if you lived in a place as attractive as this.
The city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and survived both World Wars remarkably intact. A claim to fame is that the first book in english was printed in Brugge by William Caxton. Now, it is probably better known for its lace. And chocolate, of course – although most of the Belgian chocolates on offer here are made elsewhere.
The city is very photogenic, and it was fun to take out the ancient Olympus E-1 for a spin on this trip. It performed flawlessly and, as ever, produced colours from its old Kodak sensor that are rarely equalled even with the latest and greatest cameras.
A random collection from my wanders around the city – click to see larger:
A visit to Flanders, especially not long after the centenary of WW1, was incomplete without making a trip to nearby Ypres and Passchendaele. The recent history of Ypres is an interesting one; the place was flattened in the war and apparently not a single building survived unscathed. You could see an uninterrupted view from one end of the town to the other.
Winston Churchill suggested the town should be left as a memorial but the locals had a different idea, – they rebuilt it, replicating the buildings that had been obliterated and rebuilding another beautiful medieval city. A new addition, though, is the Menin Gate – a memorial to the missing Commonwealth soldiers who have no grave.
- “Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
- The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?”
55,000 names. What a senseless war. And nearby Passchendaele saw in the region of half a million casualties. Many of these are now buried at the Tyne Cot cemetery – the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world.
I haven’t got the words.
I suppose all of this now seems rather a long time ago, and yet casualties on a grand scale are still happening in other parts of the world – but when they’re not happening in the West, somehow they don’t feature so much in our conscience.
A few final images to round off this post; reminders of a memorable trip – one I’d urge others to go on if they have the opportunity.