Day 3: The Ypres Battlefield Tour and A Greek Meal

By , November 6, 2013 23:36

Today has been quite a powerful day, as I have been visiting various sites around the Province of West-Vlaanderen, learning about First World War Belgium.

We started by picking up our guide from the railway station at Ypres (or Ieper, to use its official name, now that it comes under the Flemish (Belgian Dutch) region of the country). Much of the day was spent visiting the sites around the area, stopping for a few minutes before re-boarding the coach to travel to the next site, and whilst it was raining today, I’m actually quite glad of that, because it meant I was able to understand better the conditions experienced by the soldiers during the war.

We walked around the German trenches (not original trenches, they have been rebuilt): It was like a maze, but of course the originals would have gone on for miles; we visited the Essex Farm Cemetary where the poem In Flanders Fields was written; after lunch we had a wander round the war museum at Hooge.

It was the final part of the day which for me was the most powerful, as I suddenly realised how many people were killed during the many battles which took place in the region, how young many of the soldiers were, and how many remain to this day unidentified. It was really quite powerful walking through the Tyne Cot Cemetary – with rows of graves: there are close to 12000 graves there. The German cemetary and Langemark was quite different: No headstones, and there was a mass gave in the middle. The difference between winning and losing the war, maybe?

We finished our tour of the Ypres Battlefield by visiting the Menin Gate Memorial, which is right in the middle of the town of Ieper itself. We lay a wreath to the fallen, and walked around the memorial for a bit. Interestingly, every day at 8pm a service is held here where the Last Post is played – this is a tradition which has gone on for years, interrupted only by the German Occupation during World War 2 (during which time it moved to London). Services recommenced as soon as Ieper was liberated (while the war was still going on in other parts of Belgium) – and they have not stopped since.

After returning to Brussels, I had the evening to myself, and I felt like going in search of Greek food. At dinner last night, Mark mentioned that there is a small British community out here – with each MEP they’ll have their staff (PAs etc) and a team of officials. So I decided that there must be a small Greek community here too – and if I look in the right place, there must therefore be a Greek restaurant here. There’s a Greek taverna in Cologne… there must be one in Brussels!

My theory seemed to be correct. In fact, a quick Google search revealed 7 or 8 restaurants. It may have seemed odd that the restaurant I chose was the one not to have a website – however, it was located on the Grand Place (Brussels’ main tourist square), had some good reviews online and it seemed like the best place to go to.

I have to say… I’m glad I did eat where I did. The El Greco restaurant turned out to be small but cosy, a fire going next to where I was sitting. I enjoyed a fantastic giouvetsi for my dinner – a dish I ate for the first time when I was on Syros earlier this year. The owners are Cypriot, and I was able to speak Greek to them – so although I don’t speak French or Flemish (Dutch), I can return to the UK in the knowledge that I did speak a foreign language during my stay in Brussels.

There was also some live music tonight too – to entertain the growning number of Greeks turning up for their evening meal. Some of them carrying their European People’s Party bags, signifying that they too were here on a political visit. The Greek Conservative Party, New Democracy, sits within the EPP Group within the European Parliament.

On the Topic of Radio…

Before I head to bed and then back to the UK tomorrow, I thought I should touch a bit on what the radio stations here are like.

When I’m not getting involved in the world of politics, I work as a radio producer: And it would be impossible for me to come to a foreign country and not listen to the local radio stations – even if none of them broadcast in a language which I understand! Yes, I did have free wi-fi Internet access in my hotel: and I did wake up to LBC 97,3 yesterday, and BBC Radio 2 this morning.

However, on FM I’ve been tuning in not to the German language Public Service Broadcaster of Belgium, BRF (Belgischer Rundfunk), and not to the French language Public Service Broadcaster RTBF. Instead, I’ve been listening to the Flemish/Dutch language Public Service Broadcaster, VRT. This may seem odd, given that I learned French for three years at school, and not Dutch or Flemish. However, I have forgotten 99.9% of my French (I can just about manage ‘Bonjour’ now), whereas I have not forgotten my German – and Dutch isn’t too different to German. In fact, I often joke to my friend Jelmer (a Dutchman who I study at uni with) that Dutch is basically German in a French accent.

In particular, it is VRT Radio 2 that I listen to. Radio 2 in Belgium is like Radio 2 in the UK – imagine Chris Evans and Ken Bruce but in Dutch. Actually, imagine Radio 2 with local Breakfast Shows instead of Chris Evans – because that’s what they do here.

Here in Brussels, although Brussels does not have its own opt-out for local programming, because the city is surrounded entirely by the Vlaams-Brabant Province, Radio 2 Vlaams-Brabant is the regional Radio 2 service here – though I did tune in to Drivetime on Radio 2 West-Vlaanderen earlier on. I have been surprised by how much I can understand despite never having learned any Flemish/Dutch at all! My knowledge of German helps a lot!

Clearly, my brain is wired to speaking and understanding lots of different languages. Maybe I should make the effort to learn Dutch (if you can understand Dutch, you can understand Flemish – and vice versa). And while I’m at it, I’d quite like to learn Swedish as well. That’s Wallander’s fault.

And On That Note…

Long day tomorrow, as we’re heading back to the UK. We’re leaving at around 9, stopping at a Chocolaterie on the way, then I’ll be getting off the coach at Salisbury and I’m aiming to get the 19:40 train back to Kemble (changing at Bath and Swindon). The long hours on the coach will be the easy bit!

With that in mind, I am going to head to bed now.

Good night!

My Return to the UK

By , November 6, 2013 22:39

The Grand Place

By , November 6, 2013 21:20

I took hundreds of photos around the Grand Place – it looks very impressive all lit up at night!

Grand Place

Grand Place

Grand Place

Grand Place 4

Grand Place

Live Greek Music

By , November 6, 2013 20:57

There’s no formal dinner tonight, and I fancied a bit of Greek food… I’m glad I came to the El Greco restaurant on the Grand Place! It only cost me €19 for my meal – which was good considering the central location. It seems most of Brussels’ Greek community was there tonight too.

Greek Meal

A Greek Meal

By , November 6, 2013 20:48

Ypres Battlefield

By , November 6, 2013 17:47

Menin Gate

By , November 6, 2013 16:00

The Menin Gate is located right in the middle of the town of Ypres (or Ieper is the official name now, as it falls within the Flemish (Belgian Dutch) region of Belgium).

Menin Gate Memorial

This is the memorial to the Indian soldiers killed during both World Wars.

Memorial to Indian Soldiers

A model showing the Menin Gate Memorial…

Menin Gate Memorial

We lay a wreath to the fallen…

Menin Gate Memorial

To the armies of the British Empire who stood here from 1914 to 1918 and to those of their dead who have no known grave.

Menin Gate Memorial

Langemark: The German Cemetary

By , November 6, 2013 15:20

Langemark – the German cemetary – is quite different. I guess the difference between winning and losing a war is that you’re not allowed much time or space in which to remember those you have lost.

This building is the memorial to students killed during the war.


Below you can see the mass grave – 25000 bodies are buried here.


Notice how there are no headstones here.

It is also worth noting that the cemetary will be maintained by volunteers (unpaid) from German schools after the current Belgian contract comes to an end.

Langemark - No Headstones

Tyne Cot Cemetary

By , November 6, 2013 14:38

There are almost 12000 people buried here – approx. 8000 unidentified/unnamed. Many aged 19/20 too – so not much younger than I am now!

It is quite moving to walk through and see the number of headstones, before realising that many of the people here may still to this day not have been identified – with each one a family back home not knowing what has happened.

Tyne Cot Cemetary

Just in case you can’s read the text in the image below…

Their name liveth forever.

Tyne Cot Cemetary

World War 1 Ambulance

By , November 6, 2013 13:51


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