Hours (March 20-25)
Tuesday March 21 10-3pm
Wednesday March 22 12-5pm
Thursday March 23 12-5pm
Belgium. Not a country I ever thought about visiting until this trip and I was pleasantly surprised. We took the train from Amsterdam to Ypres, Belgium with a transfer in Antwerp and if you are ever in the Antwerp train station, try to take a few moments to appreciate its beauty. It’s breathtaking!
The train ride to Ypres (pronounced eee-pruh) was 5 hours but with so much lovely scenery, it’s a relaxing way to travel. Ypres is the second last stop at the end of the train line, which turned out to be lucky for us. There are 18 stops between Antwerp and Ypres! 18!! And the further down the line, the smaller the towns get and the less people get on and off the train. The train stopped at Ypres, we grabbed our bags and headed to the door of the train only for it to close literally in our faces and we were stuck on the train until the next stop!! How could we have missed our stop! Why didn’t the door stay open for more than a couple of minutes until all passengers were off??!! We were in a slight panic until 7 minutes later when we got to the next stop and realized we could just stay on the train and it would take us back to Ypres. So less than 20 minutes later, we were back at Ypres train station and this time made sure we were standing directly by the door to get off the train!
From the train station in Ypres, we walked a few blocks down the cobblestoned streets to the Grand Market (or city centre) to find our hotel and although not the hotel I originally booked (we got moved to the sister hotel) this one turned out to be even better than the one I had originally booked! The Hotel New Regina is on the main square directly across from Flanders Fields Museum and the amazing gothic inspired architecture of the surrounding buildings.
After checking in to our hotel, we walked through the city centre (Ypres is very small so it was very walkable and not touristy or crowded at all) and came across the Menin Gate, a war memorial dedicated to British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in WWI and whose graves are unknown. There are nearly 55,000 names at the Menin Gate. To this day, the remains of missing soldiers are still found in the countryside around Ypres. If the remains can be identified, the name is removed from the Menin Gate. Just last year the body of an Australian soldier was found.
Flanders Fields WW1 Private Tour
We had a private WWI tour booked which our friend Alyssa had booked ahead of time and Annette was our tour guide. We spent an entire day with Annette and the amount of knowledge she has about the war is incredible and she is a true historian of the area. Annette took us to German and British trenches, battlefields, the Tyne Cot Cemetery – the largest war cemetery in the world with almost 12,000 graves with over 8000 of those of unknown soldiers.
We are not big museum people but this museum was by far the most amazing museum I have ever been too. So well done and the artifacts’ and re-creations are second to none. We learned everything from the different clothing the soldiers from each country wore even down to determine which country they were from by the laces on their shoes! To the different weapons used and that gas was first used here in battle (chlorine gas and mustard gas), the difference between a German and a British trench, we saw where the front lines were for the Germans and the Allies and toured the huge craters that were left in the ground from the bombs. The rolling hills and greenery in the Flanders area is breathtaking and it is just what you imagine the European countryside to look like. The day was dreary and a fog hung in the air that gave the feeling of just what it would have been like over a hundred years ago when war raged on in the Flanders Region.
In Flanders Fields
We toured John McCrae’s medical bunkers and the site of the Flanders Field poem written in John’s handwriting. Farmers are still finding shrapnel, weapons, even shoes, and remnants from the war. Annette took us to a farmer’s shed where he collects everything he has found in his fields and she got a piece of lead shrapnel from one of the bombs and gave it to Andin. How many people can say they have an artifact directly from the battlefields??!!
I am not a huge waffle person but I had to order the Belgian waffle one night when we went for a later dessert and OMG- the Belgian waffles are no joke. The light fluffiness with the real cream on top is so delicious you don't even need syrup and it is to die for! If you do nothing in Belgium, at least try the waffles.
Our friends went back to Amsterdam while we continued on to Brussels. It was a 2.5 hour train ride with a transfer in Ghent that was pretty quick and easy. I had contacted the hotel before we arrived on the easiest route to the hotel from the train station and she gave me exact tram line and stops to take to get to the hotel which turned out to be super quick train ride and a short 10 minute walk to the hotel.
The Hygge Hotel
Refer to my blog post Let's Hygge.
The simple, Scandinavian design was beautiful and our room was the largest of the 3 hotels we stayed in and the most beautifully decorated. I booked this hotel for the interior design and the hygge atmosphere and it did not disappoint. Authentic materials such as wool, ceramics, wood, and soft colours enhanced the simple lines in the furniture and the minimalistic accessories. The Scandinavian design is one of simplicity, minimalism and functionality that exploded in the 1950’s in the Nordic countries of Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Denmark.
The hotel was about a 20-30 minute walk to the Grand Market (city centre) and wow what a grand centre it is! Stunning cathedrals, the Brussels Town Hall built in the 15th century is an architectural landmark. Its entire façade is full of lively figural sculptures representing saints and nobles (some of whose houses were demolished to make way for the palace).
We did a free walking tour of the centre and the one thing Andin wanted to see the most was The Mannequin Pis- a bronze fountain statue and the symbol for Brussels for over 800 years!! He was much smaller than we expected (29.1 inches) and there are various legends behind the Mannequin Pis so it just depends which one you believe as to how he became so famous!
Brussels is worth spending a day or two exploring the city. After all it’s known as the home to world’s best beer, chocolate, waffles and fries and not every city in Europe can be the continents capital- and its Brussels!
Cheers! (or "Sante!"in Flemish)
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