Monday, July 18, 2011

D-Day Beaches Trip - Part 3

We were lucky to find anywhere to stay in Amiens. Another problem we keep having, and something that seems strange to me after all the 24 hour hostel receptions I had in Australia, is hotel receptions that close. The magic number here seems to be 11pm, after that, you are not going to find a place to stay. So we were approaching Amiens with great haste to get there before 11pm only to find that the city center was all blocked off for some sort of festival. We couldn't get into the center and were driving around in circles with the clock ticking down but finally found a place as we started to head out of town in defeat. We made it with about 4 minutes to spare...
Amiens wasn't even an essential stop but seemed like an acceptable slight detour off the route home mainly so I could see the UNESCO-listed cathedral. I thought dad would be annoyed but even he liked this one. Very ornate and with a nave nearly as tall as the one in Cologne, it also feels huge on the inside. It was a case of me not bringing my camera with me so I don't have any photos of Amiens.
After our quick look at Amiens we headed north to Belgium where it immediately started to rain for the rest of the day. We stopped quickly in Tournai to see the belltower, then went to Ypres. Our theme has mainly been WW2 but how could we not visit Ypres, one of the main battle points of WW1 on the front line of the battle of the Somme? It was rebuilt after being completely destroyed and the cloth hall in the central square is pretty cool looking. We also saw the Menin Gate, on which is written the names of nearly 55,000 British commonwealth soldiers (including those from Canada, India, the West Indies and Australia) who have no grave. I thought the numbers of WW2 were staggering but WW1 is so much higher as to be insane. Was life really so cheap 100 years ago?

Cloth hall of Ypres.

Menin Gate.

There are tons of cemeteries and monuments and other attractions dotted around west flanders but the weather was miserable and we were feeling pretty exhausted and overloaded from the days before so we opted for a quick run through of a few key spots. We visited the Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest British Commonwealth military cemetery on foreign soil. It's disappointing in comparison to the American one the day before. It has 11,000+ graves and a wall with another 35,000 names of soldiers also without graves in a much smaller area. The layout and upkeep are inferior as well. In general everywhere we got the impression that things were not being as well maintained. But then it is getting close to the 100 year mark and the last survivor of the WW1 trenches died in 2009 so it's bound to start to go at some point...

Tyne Cot cemetery.

We then went to the John McCrae cemetery which was named after the poet who wrote the famous poem In Flanders Fields at that spot during the war, though he is not buried there. There are a few poppies kicking around here and there but you need a healthy imagination to see it as it would've been under fire during the Great War. A little less imagination is needed to get a feel for conditions in the trenches out at the Trenches of Death site that have been recreated along the banks of a canal on the site of some very fierce fighting during the Battle of the Somme. We'd arrived there a few minutes after closing but could see the artificial trenches and walk along the bank anyway.

John McCrae cemetery.

Checking out the trenches.

From there drove home via a quick stop in Ghent. I wasn't expecting anything of Ghent but the center looked kind of nice even though we got busted by the cops for driving through the pedestrianized area. (We had no idea because of all the other vehicles driving around and parked there because they were part of a set up crew for yet another festival...) We parked for an hour and ran around in the wet before finally coming home with another successful trip under our belts.

Not hard to imagine Ghent as once being part of the Netherlands.



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