9 April 2017
The day dawns sunny and warm, the sky a clear blue. The fields are a scene of tranquility. Spring is blooming and trees are budding. The roads of Belgium are filled with great squadrons of cyclists. The ducks and swans share the waters with the occasional fisherman or boat. Church bells peal in the distance; nearby it is birds I hear.
The day is too beautiful to be marred by sadness as I descend into the tunnels and trench fortifications of Dodengang along the Ypres Salient. No sound of the booming German guns; no threat of sharp shooters. It is warm and sunny in the trenches without a hint of water or ankle-deep mud. Read more…
8 April 2017
It would be hard to choose the most brutal war, the most dehumanizing war, the most wasteful war. Perhaps Belgium should have the right to declare it. The Great War, World War Two, the Napoleonic wars, were savagely acted out on its flat, soggy soil. The farmland over which I watch the dairy cows graze, the white cherry trees blossom, and the plethora of flowers bloom is known as the Battleground of Europe. This idyll is deceiving.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly”
Every town and village has a monument. Enter a battlefield area, a killing zone, you will find cemetery after cemetery: here the Commonwealth, there a Canadian, around the corner graves of Australians, two miles on silent stones bear witness to the slaughter of Germans, South Africans, Americans, New Zealanders who came here from Gallipoli, Czechoslovakians, Polish, and Belgian. “The War to end all wars” ultimately would involve five continents and thirty-two countries, each loosing thousands of lives. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row….” Read more…
Men who fought here called it ”The Meat-Grindr.” 6 April 2017
I drive the Western Front. Names of towns and their historic significance batter me: Passchendaele, Ieper, Lille, Vimy, Peronne. VERDUN!
“They shall not pass.”
This is the infamous Argonne; it breaths the words of Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.” It is quiet, but the serenity is deceiving. This soil has probably seen more mayhem and death than anywhere in the world. The men who fought here called it “The Meat-Grinder.” Read more…
5 April 2017
I drive the Ardennes. Miles and miles of stunning emerald green fields, the cherry trees a splash of white, just flowering out. Other trees are still in dormancy and an elegant contrast with the green and the white. Cows graze the fields, white too against the green grass. I drive along ridges, the earth dropping precipitously into what is the Meuse Valley where hundreds of thousands of men have fallen in battle. Read more…
4 April 2017
Any kid knows of Napoleon and Waterloo. Of a right age when Waterloo is mentioned, some may think of ABBA. Even older? How about Stonewall Jackson or Ferlin Husky? I remember all of them, but mostly I think of the extraordinary general who was Napoléon Bonaparte. Read more…
3 April 2017
Brussels has changed since I last visited. In fact, Brussels was the first “out of country” event I ever experienced. Way back in 1972 this novice traveler landed in Brussels with too much baggage, too high of heels, and too many whistle-provoking clothes. Google Maps wasn’t even close to being realized.
Today, I am back. One little bag, sensible shoes, too old for whistles and using my Google Map to navigate the short distance to my wonderful Hotel Agora Brussels Grand Palace. Read more…
1 April 2017
Ghent has the ‘misfortune’ of being sandwich between the phenomenal Grand Palace Square in Brussels and the incredibly beautiful medieval city of Bruges. Antwerp has its stunning rail station, Bruges its belfry, and Brussels the gorgeous Hotel de Ville. In Bruges, in Brussels, the architecture, museums, cafes and streets present a delightful invitation to wander and fall in love with these lovely cities.
Upon arrival into Ghent (Gent for the French and Germans), my first impression was the city had its work cut out for it. The rail station was appealing, the ubiquitous bicycles stood in a row outside, but most architecture seemed modern and plain. I had read many favorable comments about this city. What was to be my ultimate “ah ha” moment for Ghent? Read more…