Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Waterloo (Luxembourg trip - Part 1)

One of the (hopefully) many reasons the others were happy to see me reunite with them was that I would be able to accompany dad on some "manly" trips to see some of the key battle sites in the area. He'd been itching to visit them while here but nobody else wanted to go. Enter me...
Our ultimate goal is the D-Day beaches of Normandy but we didn't go that direction this time. We were given 3 days by the girls to "go play" so we opted to do a trip to Luxembourg instead. I hadn't been to Luxembourg yet so was pushing for that direction and we figured we could throw in Waterloo along the way. Dad and I were gone for only 3 days but we did so much that I'm going to have to break the trip into multiple blogs just to cover it all.
One day 1 we got up early and were on the road headed south by 7:30am. I haven't mentioned it before so I will now. The roads here are really nice. They are built for driving fast which is frustrating when you are in a slow car like ours. They also have tons of interchanges and different highways so it always seems like you are changing onto a new road instead of one straight shot across the country. Lots of construction everywhere but in general Dutch roads are good and conditions get worse the farther south you go. They also seem to get dirtier, ie. Holland > Belgium > France when it comes to cleanliness and a lack of litter.
Driving at the speed limit of 120km/h which is the best we could do anyway, it took us about 3 hours to get to Waterloo. It's 15km south of Brussels and is of course the site of the famous battle where the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon for good. That's actually all I knew when we arrived. Wellington itself is a small town just below the French/Dutch speaking line in Belgium so is French-speaking. The division in mentality and language is quite abrupt and clear so it's not really a big surprise the country is having so many difficulties with it these days.
The building that Wellington used as his headquarters in town is now a museum detailing the course of events in the days leading up to the battle on June 18th, 1815. The battle itself took place in a "valley" 5km further south. All the plaques gave a different number but it seems there were somewhere in the neighbourhood of 180,000 - 300,000 troops total between the 3 armies involved (French, English/Dutch and Prussian). I suppose the summary is that Napoleon was forced into attack mode because of time issues (he had to defeat Wellington before the Prussian army joined up) and so had to give Wellington the advantage of playing defense on a muddy field far from ideal for an offensive attack...
On the battle site now is a raised hill with a lion statue on top which gives a great view over the surrounding area. It's mostly fields and farms though the farms that played key roles in the battle are not open to the public and the landscape has flattened out more than existed at the time. There isn't really a whole lot to see but I still walked away with a feeling of having learned my history.

From Waterloo we drove towards Luxembourg, stopping in Bastogne first. It's another small town in the south east of Belgium. We'd hoped to visit the museum there about the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes during WW2, but it is closed for renovations until next year. There is a huge American memorial/monument there though that also affords a nice view of the surrounding landscape.

From Bastogne we drove into northern Luxembourg.


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