11.12.2017

Ypres, Belgium. WWI



So in the summer we went on a little driving holiday. It wasn't even planned but after pricing up a week in a Lakes cottage it worked out way cheaper to drive to France and get a Gite! Crazy but thats british school holidays. Anyway to cut up the journey to Provence we decided to make a few stops; I got Paris in there (blog to follow). The boys really love learning about the World Wars though and a mere 1 hour from Calais, just over the French boarder into Belgium is Ypres pronounced - Ee press.


 Apart from being a gorgeous 'Chocolate box' fleamish town, If you are interested in the history of WWI you will want to visit here. 
Ypres is known for being the location of the biggest battle in WWI the battle of Passchendale where the town was decimated and nearly half a million lives were lost.


"Ypres occupied a strategic position during the First World War because it stood in the path of Germany's planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north (the Schlieffen Plan). The neutrality of Belgium was guaranteed by Britain; Germany's invasion of Belgium brought the British Empire into the war. The German army surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war. To counterattack, British, French, and allied forces made costly advances from the Ypres Salient into the German lines on the surrounding hills."


There are lots of Museums, grave yards and points of interest in and around the town. Some are about a 30min drive away so having a car was great but there are tonnes of coach trips and organised tours to see which ever sites you like. It's the 100th anniversary of WWI this year so lots of extra special stuff going on and visitors. Prince William and Kate were there just a few days before us, MUCH excitement around their flower wreaths.




Our Trip.


We stayed in the centre of Ypres just across the road from the incredible Cloth Hall which after being flattened by bombs was built brick by brick back to its original beauty. Also the stunning Menin Gate sits at the entrance of Ypres where Hitler famously stood and was not allowed to pass. It is a memorial to all those who fought and died there. It records only the soldiers for whom there is no known grave. EVERY day at 8pm there is still the "Last Post" march which is so emotional; with bagpipes and a minutes silence. There are loads of Veterans visiting to show their respect, some all the way from Canada and New Zealand; they too are welcomed to take part in the march. There is a huge sense of pride here.  



There are lots of bars and restaurants in Ypres centre and lots of free parking too. We had a great night with some of the Vets and the boys LOVED trying on their uniform. There is a great sense of community everyone just makes friends and shares incredible stories from their past or their ancestors. We of course had to have a few Belgium beers with a knife top too but be warned they are strong!











As I mentioned before there are lots of organised tours but we had a car and did our own tour. I wouldn't have said I was a great 'war history enthusiast'...if thats the right term but I am now, the whole thing was very emotional and humbling and so so interesting. I'm really pleased the the boys have had this education and couldn't believe some of the harrowing things that actually happened.







Here is our made up intinery:

  • From our hotel we walked to the Cloth Hall Ypres museum which was truly fantastic, top class and so interesting. Well worth the money and you get wrist bands that allow access to other points of interest.
  • We then picked up the car and drove to the Tynecot Cemetery about 20minutes away.
  • Then to the Passendaele museum which was really great for kids as they have real trenches, to experience the life of a solider which was... so grim. We were really tired after all that walking and learning (These 3 sites took about 5hrs alone) but they have a great on site restaurant so we stopped for some much needed 'Moules and Frites' I would definitely recommend eating there. 
  • We then drove to Popperinge to the 'Execution Post' which is where they would send solders with (what we now know as) Shell Shock to be executed at dawn for being 'disobedient'. So tragic...Personally I wish I'd never seen it. It's really spooky and eerie. There are even scratchings on the walls in the cells where the poor souls were kept and clawed in messages while they waited for their fate. 
  • From there we made a final stop to Lessentook cemetery and found the boys Great Great Granddads grave...so honoured to see this with them and they all signed a cross for him then laid it on his grave with a poppy. It's crazy that so many young men, the youngest noted was just 15 died and never came home. I found it really sad to see our home town named on a grave just... amongst thousands in a foreign country so many miles from home.  








This final picture was my most favourite part. This tree was 237yrs old when it died, it stood in the battle field and survived that whole time through two World Wars and more. Inside you can see where it has taken some shrapnel, burns and stress of bad times in its environment it's called 'The Silent Witness'...can you imagine what it has seen in its life...Trees are amazing.

Tips.


  • This could of been done over 2 days as there is so much to see at all the sites. There are also more things to see and places to visit but we didn't have anymore time and were truly knackered after that. I can't recommend visiting Ypres enough though and I find it crazy that we left home in the morning and were there by dinner time it would only be a few hours for you southerners. Just give it a few days if possible.
  • Belgium is expensive....in fact everywhere we went was expensive as you will see. Just be warned even basic stuff, for example in POUNDS 2 beers and 2 lemonades cost £21 a round. Breakfast of 4 waffles and hot chocolates £35. Dinner of Fleamish stew (yummy) on 'The square' with drinks £80. So bring your wallet.
  • Apparently there is a great Christmas Market here and it would make a lovely trip with all the Chocolate shops and famous tea rooms.
  • We stayed at the Novotel Leper It was a nice hotel but a little run down in the bedrooms and therefore pricey. £231 for 2 nights. This location and free parking was great though.  

  • Apparently restaurants stop serving food at 9pm in Ypres. The first night we got there, we quickly dumped our bags and watched the parade at the Menin gate, it was getting dark before we knew it. However Captain Cook on the high street, kindly squashed us in and had fantastic pizzas. They really spoiled the kids who were cranky and hungry after a day travelling; brilliant staff and obviously a bit later service.

  • WATCH the last post march above anything it was just incredible.
  • Wear comfy shoes, we walked for miles. Archie lost a tooth while here and said it was a llll the walking made it fall out....


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.

We give thanks to all the incredible service men and woman past and present. 
Lest we forget.




The rest of the trip is to follow as soon as I can get it all down, thanks for your patience! 


1 comment:

  1. We went to Ypres on a school trip, I was 14 and for some reason I just really didn't understand it at all. It's only really been in the last few years I've truly realised what all those amazing people did for us and have started to learn more, I'd love to go back as an adult, I bet it so interesting and very emotional.

    Going to save this post for the day we plan our trip!

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