795-797: Making the Most of our Dutch Museum Card

795 – Tuesday 1st August 2017: Edam and Vollendam

At 0930 hrs, we moved Jez to a free car park in Vollendam, as our free parking at the cheese and clog place likes the car park clear to attract the coaches and we oblige.  Os-car-trailer deployed – some barking resumed – horrendous crowds in Volendam and everything too expensive…there were ferryboat to Markham which we’d not cared for either – but quite pretty in a non-natural, catch the tourist kind of way.  We cycled to Edam which we did like – are we fussy? Yes.  And on our cheeses, not particularly!  Amazing merchant’s house with floating floor to compensate for the rises and falls of the water table. …  Our Dutch Museum card is saving us shed loads of Euros already. 

Our Amsterdam campsite was full to the ‘gunnels and pitches are very cosy – you need to be friendly with neighbours… nice German families on both sides.  BBQ and Zzzzs.

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Now the whole family imbibes Advocaat at Christmas … so when I saw a bottle in Lidl, I had to buy one.  Not the same as Warniks, that we get a home … so I read the label.  It may be 14%, but it is to be consumed with ice cream or used in cakes …. so I did … lovely with ice-cream 🙂  And only 14% – but still allowed on one of our dry days!

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Pretty Edam.

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Long beards was obviously a one time fashion statement … J’s comes off long before this.

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I’m in the floating cellar.  There are few still in existence in the Netherlands, but this is the only one open to the public.  To be expected, it moves as you move.  

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Short beds as people slept sitting up on pillows … they thought lying down too close to death.

795 – Wednesday 2nd August:  Amsterdam 1 – Walking Tour, 3 Churches and the Royal Palace

Our O-barkingK9 took us to the ferry “Across the Mersey” (Jerry and the Pacemakers 1962 – thought you oldies would know that one – Amelia, you’re too young!).   Across the ij river;  Amstel is further over – the Amstel beer is excellent – reminds me of ‘Hashing’ days in Amman – the “Hash House Harriers” – the worldwide drinking club with a running problem…

We did a walking tour with one other – an Italian girl, currently on an internship in Amsterdam – she was missing the art and splendour of Italy and of course, the food.  having spend 6 months in Italy, we could empathise.  Our guide was Leonard (History student) and he was full of fun anecdotes…  but a little disjointed in his delivery and a little short on depth.

The Red Light District was – hmmmm – interesting!   I tried to avert my gaze (partially successfully) from the ladies in the windows wearing ‘funderwear’ – but the industry is safe and well regulated – and no pimps!  The average time spent inside – for ‘business’ is 7-12 minutes!!!  It takes me that long to unfurl my umbrella (not speaking from experience!).  In holy Catholic Ireland in the ‘60s, we thought a condom was a salt and pepper ’thingy’…  Or was it a ‘fonduement, fun-damentally, lamentably or scandulously… we move on.  

The Museum Card again saved us money – the Neue Kerk, Oude Kerk, Royal Palace and the Attic Catholic Church… The post-Reformation liberal Dutch allowed catholics to practice their religion only in private homes – hence the ‘Attic Chapel’.  King Henry VIII would not have approved… 

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Can tell we are entering the red light district.  Wearing of comdoms is obligatory.

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Pavement art, but not much of a caress!

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Narrow tall buildings as land was expensive … a single flight of stairs is economical … a double flight indicated wealth.  The other main symbol of wealth were Tulip Bulbs – imported and traded at great expense until the market collapsed

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must’ve been difficult buying furniture for this window wide one!

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Former house name signs, until Napoleon decreed that all houses had to have numbers and street names.  Napoleon also forced people to adopt an official family name.  Many went for a word to describe with job, such as Farmer, but some reluctantly chose silly names such as NakedatBirth, which have endured until today!

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Wonder if his name is NakedatBirth … he did not drum up much custom … wonder if the unauthentic Calvin Kleins had anything to do with it?

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We went into the Beguinnes complex (Ghent had three such complexes), where single women and widows lived together and did good, mostly nursing, works.  In one of the chapels was this relic – the vomit of bread from a dying man that had not burned overnight when cleared up by one of the Beguines and thrown on the fire.

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The Royal Palace was formerly the Town Hall.  When Napoleon stuck his brother on the throne, Louis cast about for a suitable palace and had the rooms converted quickly into the palace.  The Empire furniture is the largest collection outside France.

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And the chandeliers were stunning.

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The Old Church was mostly used to bless ships and over 10,000 bodies are buried underneath.  Another Napoleon edict was to bury bodies outside the church.  Stunning organ.

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Slightly surreal art – gold blankets are often used to to shroud refuges after a sea crossing and they protect the tomb stones.

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Our Lord in the Attic.  Catholicism was officially banned but since 40% of the population were catholic, the authorities ignored what the eye can’t see.  Churches in houses were created, along with a confessional and accommodation for the Priest. Here the church spans three houses, the floor and roof raters cut away and iron rods inserted to pull it all together.  

796 – Thursday 3rd August:  Amsterdam Art Museums

K:  I’m taking over the text from here, as J is busy upstairs … stripping … wall paper … we are very behind with our blogging as we’ve had no time!  More anon.

Parking the bikes again, we crossed on the free ferry … a simple system where you walk to the front and then off the other end when it docks.  People, bikes and mopeds and we even saw a small car. Very efficient.

We caught the tram down to the museum quarter and took turns in the Van Gogh Museum.  It was very good at explaining Van Gogh’s influences and how his art developed, as well as including some of his peer’s work.  His brother funded Van Gogh and his brother’s widow then promoted Van Gogh’s work, as he had not been well known in his lifetime.  During our picnic lunch, I asked J if he had his museum card safe … oops we both turned our all his pockets.  Back in the Van Gogh Museum, J left his email address in case they found it.  So I only wandered into the Rijks Museum.  This again told the story of Dutch art, including more Van Gogh.  I saw Rembrandt’s The Night Watchman (not too keen), and some Vermeer (which I did like).  And some Delft, which seemed to be heavily influenced by Chinese design.

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The Rijks Meusum – very busy but more people seemed to be interested in having their pic taken on top of the large letters of I Heart Amsterdam.

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The Museum’s reference library – good to see it being used.

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In the evening we wandered back into town to watch a Gay Pride concert.  Most of the performers were notable for being drag artists rather than their singing skills, but there was a cracking 3 girl band who finally got the audience going a bit … we did not stay long after them.

797 – Friday 4th August:  Amsterdam – The Last Day

Amazing – James checked his email and the Van Gogh Museum had found his Museum card … we elected to take the bikes across the water and brave the Amsterdam city centre so we could get to pick up J’s card and then across to the Rembrandt House Museum.  Cycling was interesting … Oscar barking pretty much most of the time, trying to avoid other cyclists, pedestrians, trams and other vehicles.  Amazing we did not see, let alone participate in, any accidents, but they do travel quite slowly.  I managed to jam my wheel in a tram line and did a slow motion decent the the pavement … fortunately the Os-car is hinged to stay upright.  Just a minor scratch to my knee and more damage to my pride.

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Rembrandt used still life and a lot of artefacts to practice line drawing and then painting on.  He made his students also practice for years.

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At this time, artists had a palate of 12 colours, all from natural sources … the red and blues were very expensive.

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On my tour, I was lucky enough to watch a paint mixing demo – and have a go mixing on the big stone … the minerals were mixed with linseed oil and sometimes stored in pigs’ bladders.

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Part of the still life collection.

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View from the bench where we took turns – no hardship with this view.

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Gassan Diamonds was nearby, so again we took turns. The different carat, colour, clarity and cut were explained and we were shown some samples and stones set in rings … as we could handle them, I have my doubts that they were real.  The Gasson 121 cut has more cuts than the standard Brilliants … but knowing nothing about diamonds, lost on me …. I just liked the sparkle.

We then attempted to get into the top Amsterdam attraction – the Ann Frank House.  Whilst our Museum Card enabled us to queue jump in the other museums, no chance of it here.  On being told the queue was already over 2 hours, we cut our losses and cycled back to the ferry and the campsite.

We liked Amsterdam a lot and would happily come back and spend more time wandering the streets and some of the other museums, but not in the summer … far too busy!  

Our plans to explore a bit more of the Netherlands changed … we wanted some sun so we planned to head south.  My good friend Kerstin has just managed to evict some tenants, who had trashed the house … we offered our decorating services … so off to Engers, near Koblenz we shall go tomorrow.


Oscar’s Diary

Yes, it’s me, readers… how about a good old ‘whinge’ then…  Now my owners (bless their cotton sox) are quite ok – ‘gutenfolx’ in pigeon Dutch (another of my considerable lingua skills).  They bought this contraception – sorry (it’s that darn Led Right Mistrict) contraption – for me.  Did I ask them? No.  Did they consult me – No!  A fecking baby trailer, for ***** sake. Pardon my Dutch. They hooked it up to K’s bra – sorry, bike – and enticed me to go inside – with treats..  Ok, inside, they string me up by a harness and cycle off with me bouncing around trying to protect my ‘crown jewels’…  So, I bark – and get ignored!!!  

Back at home – shaken but not stirred – I have applied to join the French Foreign Legion – as a Welsh “Condomerie” – that’s a sort of ‘Colonel’ with sticky bits…  I can do the ‘Entente Condomriale’ with any little Klady… 

You haven’t heard the last of this ‘double Kentendre’, owners….

Dank U (Dutch, you see…)

Oscar

xx 


789-794: Os-Car goes Mobile

789 – Wednesday 26th July 2017:  Doggy Ride

Oscar’s new bike trailer!  K did some research and for good quality and mid price dog bike trailer.  We do not tow a car or have a moped … just bikes or our legs.  In some countries dogs are not allowed on public transport, so getting around can be quite limiting if we park some distance from a site or don’t want to move Jez.  We are thinking about buying E- Bikes to extend our range, but at £1500+ each, we need to be absolutely sure that Oscar is happy in a trailer.  Anyway – DoggyRide came out tops.  We made contact with the European office in Holland – the owner is Dutch but lives in the States.  We went for a Novel 10 – it is aluminium so weighs in at 15kgs with the extras:  soft memory foam cushion (only the best for O), a kickstand and cargo rack.  The choice was also influence a little by the orange colour to match his fur, lead and collar!  

What can we say?  Well, he will have a lot to say – not all good, though…. Euro400 is worth it – and he slept happily there on day 1 – but…. on the road, his barking is – well – loud and incessant!!!  Any motion and he’s off again … it does stop after about an hour.  More anon – we will travel (as always) hopefully – in Oscardillacville.   Every time we return to the bikes and Os-car he bounds right up to rear and happily hops in to be rewarded by a treat … he is a real greedy boy.  Wish he could understand that his options are limited … stay home alone or come with us and travel in the Os-car along roads.

BBQ in the evening…  Wonderful cycle tracks – great for running.

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Stage 1 of becoming accustomed going well.  He was happy to sleep in it to.

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790 – Thursday 27th July 2017:  Houten

Houten is a large and modern.  We reckon every building was under 20 years old.  However, as we cycled in we spotted a small market.  K managed to NOT buy some of the wool … she has enough for about 4 projects stored!  We did buy a few cycle items … a high pressure pump, a rear view mirror and a kick stand for K’s bike  … Oscar – the bills associate with you are mounting up!

A small lunch out and local beer, again!  And we followed the signs to the old town … we think we found it, but is only amounted to a small square.  With so many cycle tracks, we managed an involuntary detour the long way home!  At least it was flat.

 

791 – Friday 28th July 2017:  Waterlinie Museum and Bunnik

As we said, the Os-car is a work in barkness (not darkness).  We cycled and O ran most of the way as it was off road to the fort which houses the Waterlinie Museum.  This is one of the most unusual and best we’ve visited. Interactive, informative about how Holland used water to defend the country for a few hundred years, successfully until WW2.  We took turns in the museum or had a coffee in the newly opened bar.  Lovely chap with the student running it; interestingly he’s studying security and safety in the contact to urban planning.  Couldn’t do enough to be helpful, free crisps and offered to top up coffee.  Another nice experience.

We bought some more cycle bits in the main town – I cannot remember the context but K used the word “cycle logical” for one bike bit!!!   

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Newish interactive museum inside a Water Line fort … yep we go through that crack.

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The enemy are attacking.  Which polders will you flood?

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The threat of the flooding also preserved the Netherlands neutrality in WW1 – A report from a few years before stated that once the water line was flooded, the rich west was impenetrable.

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These different characters told their side of the water line story using projected faces.  The easterners were not allowed to relocate to the west but their lands were flooded, even in practice.

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The best bit – you were flown up over the landscape and shown it in its agricultural state and then flooded.  Loved it.

792 – Saturday 29th July 2017:  Huizen

Free Aire.  We walked along front – all suburbia and completely devoid of people – at a weekend in summer!  Alan – a lovely man we met (American and converted Dutchman) said they’re all in Espana, chasing the sun … which is where we should be!   We gave up trying to find a town centre.  Not somewhere to put on your must visit list!

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The boats are here, but WHERE is everyone and the town centre?

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Nothing for it, but the obligatory drink stop.  A baby shower going on behind us. 

793 – Sunday 30th July 2017:  Naarden

Sunday – we both ran early – I managed to get my distance up to 7K – best since the Severn Bridge a month ago – improving… 

We loaded up the Os-car and cycled towards Naarden. Sunny to start – then the heavens opened with almost ‘Gibraltar-esque’ heavy rain (24hr stair rods). We were quickly soaked through and sought refuge in a restaurant – much to the amusement of staff and patrons!  K gave me her nice girly t-shirt and I posed suitably…  (K:  Bless, didn’t want my man catching a chill!).  A light lunch turned into two courses, as we spotted the dessert served at another table:  J just had to try hot apple pie, cinnamon with ice cream and cream … K did a taste test.  And we dried off mostly… Back on the trail and – warm sun emerged! 

We purchased the Museum Card, which gives us free access to about 400 museums in the Netherlands for EUR60 for a year.  K had done a costing and with Amsterdam coming up in a few days, it will be worth it.  The fort museum was a bit uninteresting and all in Dutch – and we would have voted it not worth the money at EUR 9pp, but somehow with the museum card it counts as free!  This was another case of where the card reader will not take anything but a Dutch debit or credit card.  So far our cards have been rejected at a campsite, restaurants, the Doggyy Ride place and now a national museum.  We are having to use an ATM every few days, making us more conscious of our spending!  The fort goats were quite  interested in Oscar, who was allowed in.  The town centre very pleasant – and with a few people here although mostly tourists.  And a beer stop… The main church in town has a fascinating timber roof and the Town Hall is worth a look.

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Suits you!  All J needed was a medallion!  Or boobs!

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Naarden fort. 

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It is star shaped and surrounded by a twin layer of moat and canal.

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Hey you orange dog.  You looking at me? …

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…You still interested?  Got me mates to back me up!

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The Town hall

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The great church had a super painted nave.

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Funny little green men.  We’ve seen a lot of these … even families have them outside their homes for when the children are playing.  Good idea. 

794 – Monday 31th July 2017:  Markham

A very late start as K read till 2.30 a.m.!  We drove to Markham – too touristy and prices to match (EUR7 for 2 hours parking!).  Pretty wooden houses and surrounded by water and connected to the mainland by a long causeway.  A quick visit and Oscarwalk, then off again.

Our overnight stay – in the car park of a local “Clog and Cheese” emporium near … Edam – lovely!  A quick tour explained how the cheese was made, lots of gifts to buy and a cheese tasting.  See K as buxom Dutch lady! (K:  I wish … buxom that is!).  So many clogs – and so much cheese – edible purchases, naturally!  10 van as of 7:00 pm – and still squeezing in… early evening sunshine, too.

J took O for an early evening walk and he came back green!  Oscar that is.  O had either assumed that he could walk on water or that the green on top of a drainage ditch was grass!  Oops.  Apparently J had to help pull him out as he was in shock!  He got a good rubbing down before he was allowed back in the van. 

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Markham:  Seriously busy and touristy.  Car park EUR3 per hour!!!

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Mark:  Clog Tree.  Outside a clog shop – selling clogs at EUR60-70 – we saw them later for EUR35.

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Markham:  Pretty wooden houses.  Though so squeaky and immaculate they could be UPVC rather than wood.

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Gosh, I’ve put on a few lbs here!   The cheese and clog maker allows Motorhomes to park overnight in his car park, so here we are!

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Cheeses are left to mature at room temperature.  We tasted a fair few and came away with an Edam (I know!!!, but it tastes so much better than what you buy at home … Edam is a style of cheese not a geographic area) and a cumin Gouda.

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Clog City.

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Not my size!  Tried some on and found them quite hard to walk in.

787-788: Going, Going, Gent

787 – Monday 24th July 2017:  Ieper and onto Gent

The Lone Tree cemetery included Irish graves – we were nominally neutral but thousands enlisted in Irish regiments. The Pool of Peace was mad from a large crater – best use….

Onwards to Ghent (Gent in Flemish) and a convenient riverside free parking. Short reccce into town – and coffee of course!

Lovely evening – sans alcohol (!) and some rain overnight. The forecast for all this week was dire – but it’s improving as we speak.   

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A final cemetery – The Lone Tree with mostly Irish graves.

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The Pool of Peace created in a … crater.

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Wall art – wonder if this lad attended this school ….

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… I’d like to have taught there!

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More wall art – possibly with live inhabitants.

788 – Tuesday 25th July 2017:  Walking Gent

Am – no running – slept a bit late – and a full visit to Gent – our tour guide (unpaid – except for lunch and ice cream – lots) was K.  Quite similar to Bruges but bigger (third largest city in Belgium) and much more to see.  A definite good visit.  The TIC turned up trumps as usual and self guided walking tour commenced. O was the normal focus of attention (can I disguise myself as a Welshie – I could learn to bark?).  We are now getting used to dodging bikes – O will take a bit longer to train….

Lots of photos – and I do know about babies, K – mine were all delivered after 9 months by the stork and placed carefully under a medium sized cabbage leaf – so there!!!   

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Gent is a low motorised zone, except for bikes.

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St Michael’s Bridge with views whichever direction you face.  

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Selfie on the bridge, but my arms are not on enough and I will NOT buy a selfie stick!

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A massive stage straddling the water is just coming down after the Gent Festival.  Every street has tents, stages and litter being cleared away – must have been some party!

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The Belfry and the Cloth Hall … much smaller than the one in Ieper.

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Statue of Jacob van Artevelde in Vrijdagmarkt:  leader and politician 1290-1345 he led the insurgents and undid the boycott of English wool imports.  He is not testing for rain but pointing to his ally England.  Despite his popularity, he was murdered in his home by the head of one of the rich weavers.  The square has been a market place and place of executions; the last being in 1822.

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The lamp post lights up every time there is a birth in Gent … J wanted to wait – he has no idea how long labour may take, despite 4 children!

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Looking across to Graslei – originally warehouses and wharves.  Some of the buildings lean in to aid the hosting of grain and wool.

785-786: Ieper – Their Name Liveth Forever

785 – Saturday 22nd July 2017:  Walking Tour and Menin Gate

A nice walk took us to Ypres centre – we booked on a 5:30 pm guided tour on foot. K explored the excellent Flanders Field Museum whilst O and I supped juice and coffee and the passing Ypresians admired our noble “Hund” (in Flemish).  K returned from Outer Space (Oscar says).  The walking tour was amazing “Ypres Mysteries” and the photos show his itinerary – he told good stories – including when a group of tourists had to crawl through a small tunnel (150 metres) to appreciate the Ipresian river – and the lights failed!!!  The lights failure has now become local folklore and has been incorporated into the tours!  At the end, we visited the “Ice House” below the city ramparts – to demonstrate the acoustic our host sang “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”.

The “Last Post” ceremony at the Menin Gate was the most emotional moment for us since we visited the Normandy Landings sites 3 years ago – not a dry eye in the house of hundreds..Wreaths were laid by people including a soldier – veteran of WW2 – another “War to end all Wars”.  Have we learned – again – from history?  There’s no answer, really…

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In Flanders Field Museum:  Traces the events of WW1 well.  Explains horses to mechanisation, trench and tunnel construction,  use of new of ‘weapons’ such as flame throwers and gas, medical developments such as blood transfusions and of course the lack of effective movement of the front line.

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Oscar’s a la carte dinner …. off the ground … he did not seem to mind!

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Entrance to the Fish Market.  The sculptor took the theme of the old sculpture, but used the chap from the local swimming baths for his Neptune model and a placid horse which became quite feisty after a bucket of beer.

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During the re-modelling of the town in the late C19, the tax collector could only have a tiny office, so doors and stairs took up most of this space.

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The signs for military cemeteries everywhere, in town and out.  Most have British names as this was the mostly British Front; the Belgians being north and the French south.

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Part of the Menin Gate.  55,000 names of missing in combat engraved on the walls.  I spotted a Leslie (my maiden name).

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The Last Post came from the right hand side.  Whilst a choir sang, families (front bottom) walked up and laid wreaths on the opposite steps.

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Whilst we had supper, we were blest with a rainbow.  A beautiful end to a mixed emotion day.

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Our lap dog being fed water.

786 – Sunday 23rd July:  Cycling WW1 Sites

“The time has come – the walrus said – to speak of things – and cabbages and kings”  Well, the time had come to go family cycling with our ‘king Oscar!  Bikes at the ready – my back tyre was as flat as –  canbake…  Our pump was banjaxed – but a Welsh speaking family came to the rescue – and off we set…After some initial O-wobbling did not manage to unseat K, we sallied forth.  To a WW1 crater site – good museum but too much to take in.  Lovely lunch at the cafe though and to an open air museum with original trenches and a pill box.  Hills 60 and 62 are all stark reminders of the little advances and withdrawals…   

So many soldiers graves without names but “Soldiers of the Great War – Known to God”.  

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Hooghe Crater.

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Hooghe Crater Cemetery.

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In the region of 3,600 men buried here with no named grave, I saw one grave stone with 4 soldiers, then 5 and then 6.

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A Canadian memorial on top of Hill 62.  Even thought Flanders is largely flat, it is not until you are on top of one of the rises, you realise how strategically important they were.

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Hill 60 was bought up by a British family just after the war and kept as it was … the ground was uneven from the mortars and thousands of men are still buried underneath.  

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Back from our bike ride and I got the twin tub out again and the sun shone on the laundry 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

779-784: Popping to France and Belgium.

779 – Sunday 16th July 2017: Preparations

The big day has come – the start of Summer Euro 2017 (not footie) mini tour!  Finished laundrifying at Royal Rothbury, filled with LPG in Guildford and started to a wild camping spot on the coast near Folkestone. Well, the lanes got narrower and narrower (are we in Sicilia?) – several farm vehicles and no suitable sites – so, back to good old proper aire at Canterbury New Dover Road… and only £4.00.

Zzzzzs for the night./

780 – Monday 17th July:  And We’re Off

The train terminal was busy even without the school hols – this week to commence. La Belle France – joy – straight on to free motorways.  Robin and Kensey awaited (Oscar’s latest diary preempted this – he couldn’t wait…). K and R went to town and wined themselves (K:  Only 1 glass – a rather pleasant little Bourgone Aligote).  Supper – and evening saw 30+ motorhomes in situ!!!  Obviously the place to overnight close to Calais. 

781 – Tuesday 18th July:  Bearing Up in Bergues

Nice early run – trying to up the mileage (or kilometerage) – successfully…  Coffee in town and then R and Kensey left for Calais. So nice here, we decided to stay until tomorrow – knitting, reading and resting under the awning. Parfait!   Wouldn’t normal roll out the awning on an aire, but it was blinkin hot and quite a few had done so.  K even got the twin tub out … we will need to replenish our water soon.  So warm that the laundry all dried within hours. This sun is what we came for after the cold and blowy Scottish islands.

782 – Wednesday 19th July:  Popping into Poperinge  

Mini shop, diesel fill, an aire on the border with 100ltr water for ERU3, and off to Poperinge we popped to a nice compact and central car park that takes motorhomes for a max of 48 hours. This town is a the centre of a hop growing region and WW1 troop transit and field hospital areas.  We visited a local bar for Belgian beer (a new experience – the beer not the bar – we passed the ‘Bar’ exams years ago!). Are we “Baristas” or just old socks, sorry – soaks.  The Talbot House provided front line troops with a haven – a piece of home for a few days – chapel on the top level. The UK couple who volunteer there for short periods said that people have detected a ‘presence’ in the house occasionally – not surprising as many of the young men who visited never came back.

The local brewery museum was fascinating – hundreds of beer varieties – up to 12% alcohol by volume!!! 

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We took turns at the Hop Museum to hop (!) knob with the rather merry locals.

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The original building was the hop drying building.  The museum thoroughly explained the whole process using an audio guide.

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Talbot House:  Originally a private house, it was rented to provide a sanctuary for all soldiers, regardless of class or rank.  The strongest beverage served was tea.  The towns streets apparently were awash with drunken brawls and prostitutes.

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The Chapel up some steep stairs.

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The rear garden, which at times had soldiers sprawled everywhere.  A real sense of peace.  Tea and coffee served by volunteers, who also provide breakfast for overnight guests.

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Check out our different cafe choices!  Not a pang of regret on either side.

783 – Thursday 20th July:  Bopping in Poperinge

Walking in a town park, K spotted a notice for a party tonight in the same park – instant decision to stay an extra night – because we can!  Obligatory coffee in town square. The Chinese Labour Museum told the highly unusual tale of almost 95,000 Chinese labourers recruited by the British army to work in Belgium on the war effort – most evocative stories through original photographs. Now , we don’t really mind rain (San Sebastian, Gibraltar, et al) but it was a great excuse to shelter whilst having a good lunch and sampling some more Belgian socks – damn, that old soaks thing again – beer!   Wunderbar….

The Park Party was – incredible!  Loads of families – beer ,food and good chatting to locals – inspired by our gentle “hund” in Flemish – dog, Oscar. It was ever thus. Professional dancers led and taught many local couples in Swing, Lindy Hop, Waltz and Jive.  Again we commented how mad UK Health and Safety has gone.  Candles lit on table in jam jars, logs burning in open braziers and beer served in real glass!  We left at 1030-ish still in some daylight.

We are really coming around to the Belgian people – lots have been extremely friendly and helpful and they are super dog friendly … Oscar is allowed in museums!  One local lady gave a recommendation to visit the Trappist Monastery – makers of world class beer – and holy men too!  That’s our destination sorted for tomorrow then!

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Mister Ghylbe satirising the long standing cloth wars with Ypres, Ghent and Brugges – riding a donkey backwards with spoons for spurs.

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Quite sleepy now and hard to envisage all the troops marching through.

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We saw the jail where rowdy soldiers were incarcerated with their graffiti carved onto the walls.  It also was the place of the last night for 4 soldiers who were executed in the square of the town hall.  Overall 3,080 British soldiers were sentenced to death during WW!, but ‘only’ 346 executions took place.  90% of them have since been pardoned with posthumous apologies to families.  600 men were executed by the French (not sure of this includes the 2 random men shot per regiment when they refused to advance after the awful losses at Verdun), only 48 German and 750 Italians.  No recorded executions for the Australian army as they so not use it as a form of military punishment.  Many of the deserters were put back with their regiments, who were unsympathetic.  77% of the executed soldiers were for desertion.  Other crimes were cowardice (5%), mutiny, insubordination, falling asleep on your watch, throwing away your weapon and striking a superior officer.

This poem translates as:

Light, bleak dawn.

The worn out night bursting open in my chest and fading.

My hands holding the glass –my last one.

The priest bringing his God, the doctor his opiates.

Mother of God.

Out there she’s warming her feet against the coal.

Out there she’s turning in her sleep.

Do not aim at me, lads.

Aim at the white cloth on my chest.

Light, bleak light etching words, bare words in the wall.        Erwin Mortier

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This was the actual wall.  We only knew this as we ear wigged a knowledgable English chap doing a tour for some friends.  He’d served and lost friends in Afghanistan, been a policeman in Guildford and now worked for United National Peace Keeping.  

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Back to beer as an aperitif … comparing Blonde and Brun Leffe.

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Our own Strictly Come Dancing – they got quite few folk up learning steps.

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Some locals were in shorts and a light jacket … J and I, from more Northern climes, had full winter layers.  Oscar coming up for a tummy rub!

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No, it’s a full sit on.

784 – Friday 21st July:  Must Taste – Best Beer in the World

We visited the Lijssenhoek Military Cemetery and we were immediately saddened to see the grave memorials – from age 19 to 42 years young. So many lives lost in this “War to end all Wars’ – did it? No, tragically. A modern visitor centre with audio witness accounts … very moving.  A famous war poem comes to mind…

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

we will remember them.”        Robert Laurence Binyon

We arrived at a brand new aire in Westvleteren near the above recommended Saint Sixtus Abbey Trappist Brewery/Monastery…..  Euro12 with electric is reasonable value – highly recommended, as only 1.9km from the beer.  We supped prime Trappist beer at the Cafe across the road from the Monastery – the Brewery and Monastery are closed visitors. They only brew enough beer to support themselves, and yet the 10.2% proof version is in high demand having been voted the best beer for several years.  It is only sold commercially the the cafe or via the small shop there.  Today the shop had signs up “No beer for sale today” and reading Trip Advisor, you have to be quick when it is available as queues form quickly. If you really want to buy some, you can ring the hot line, but the monks only answer it occasionally and book for months ahead to come to the gate to collect your two cases limit. 

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11,800 + graves.

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Some countries repatriate their fallen .. French gaps on the left.

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Only 6 breweries in Belgium brew Trappist beer and it has to be on the premises.  Bottles are unlabelled, but the caps are colour coded and contain legal information.

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J went for the blond and I threw cation to the wind and went for the Westvleteren 12 … 33 ml bottles so equivalent to a third of a bottle of wine.

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Spotted a Belgian Welshie … we saw another one in Ypres, but he went for Oscar … must be a breeding nest of them nearby.

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On the camper stop, steps made out of the beer crates.