Flemish Impressions

It´s about a month since we (wife, son, me) returned from Belgium where we had a great week, all told. We were lucky to be able to rent a small holiday chalet near Bruges, so that´s where we went first, of course. Our abode being about 17 km away from the City, we cycled.

xbiketrekI myself took the 100 Euro Trek again which had given me good service in France already. I must say it´s a quick bike.

Here are some pics from Brugge, as the Flemish call it:

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There´s so much to see and do in this most fascinating of Europe´s cities – unbelievable. The combination of waterways and solid, huge buildings never fails to amaze me.

xcobbledroad xcobbledslechtAnd we really used a genuine, Belgian cobble stone road. The road sign says “Road surface in bad state”. Who´d have thunk.

The windmill we cycled past is in a very good state, though.

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Entering Brugge from the North, you come across yet one more bridge, Scheepsdalebrug, that can be lifted for passing ships. This one, however, is very different in that it has a cantilevering system. I didn´t see it work, but it must be fascinating to watch when the large arms roll down as the road surface lifts up to an estimated 45 deg angle. It was opened only in 2011, its predecessor, having survived WWII, having been scrapped despite a public outcry. It´s a bridge with its own Wikipedia article.

This is what you see first. When the bridge opens, the ends of the arms decend until…

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… the bolt at the end of the arm…

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… engages in the huge hook on the quayside, securing the whole construction. Simple, but very place consuming.

 

Some photos from the town we stayed at.

xdehcoqstation xdehstation xdehprom xdehhouse xdehcyclistA place called de Haan was where we stayed. It´s about the only place left on the Flemish North Sea coast which has not been completely concreted over and built up with high rise flats. De Haan really is a nice place and can only be recommended. The station building belongs to the Kusttram, a tramway which goes all the way from the Dutch to the French borders, a staggering 67km.

Cycling still is the sports in Flanders – you meet many road cyclists, and also you see a number of street furniture items to remind you that you´re in the heartland of cycleracing. Flemish TV will not shy away from showing cyclocross amateur races live all Sunday. And all the drivers I encountered actually treated me, the cyclist, like a genuine participant in road traffic. On small roads drivers of huge tractors actually stopped, drivers slowed down.

People planning and maintaining cycle paths, or indeed road signs, seem to have different ideas, though – cycle paths are there to cause you flats, excepting where tourists are expected to use them, and road signs are non existant. I got lost one day until I felt quite irretrievable and I thought I´d never make it home. It was a very good thing that my Dutch enabled me to ask for the way, and the usual overpowering friendliness of the locals had me heading in the right direction just before nighfall. (A good map and/or SatNav system are perfectly irreplacable if you don´t speak either Dutch or English.) That´s one more thing I really value highly about Flanders: Even in the hottest touristy hotspots people are invariably friendly, helpful and relaxed. One saleswoman right in the middle of Bruges actually allowed me to take my bike inside the store while choosing a T-Shirt.

Here are the two neighbouring towns to the East of De Haan, Wenduine and Blankenberge (the big buildings).

xwendaps xwenplage xwendchurchTo the other side of De Haan there´s Ostende, a modern looking town, with a more usual bridge construction.

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Maybe you are going to dislike this, but I must say I find the modern fifties and sixties buildings in Ostende rather attractive.

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The former public cycle race track, now converted to a skater track. Ugh.

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But Flanders also is the country of some of history´s most horrible battles, and in the Westhoek around Dixmuiden there are literally hundreds of cemetaries, monuments and other places to remind the tourist of the First World War.

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This is what the Begijnhof below looked like in 1918. It´s the exact angle of view.

xdisbhofrest xdixytoren xdixshell xdixroute xdixcouncilh xdixcanal Dixmuiden was completely destroyed in WWI and has been rebuilt to look quite exactly what it was like in 1914. The huge Ijzertoren of course is a structure that was erected in the early fifties, and its Flemish nationalist and hardcore catholic background make it a a little suspect to my mind.

Ieper / Ypers is another example of a town that was completely flattened and rebuilt.

xypmarketDon´t really know what the huge ferris wheel is doing in the market, but somebody will.

xypmpfullThe Menin Gate is a monument to the missing British soldiers of WWI. There are tens of thousands of names inscribed in every available nook and cranny of the impressively large structure.

xypmpnames xypmpnamesiiIts ceiling strongly reminds me of the one that adorns the recently finished monument to WWII Bomber Command crews in London. I wonder if it´s intentional.

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Ypres

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London

In spite of the size of Menin Gate, not all names of those missing in action in the battles around Ypers could be accomodated there. There is a huge annex to Menin Gate in Tyne Cot cemetary just outside the town.

xtynecentr xtynecmonum xtynecfullMore WWI – of course one site must be visited if you`ve got the time. It´s the place where John McCrae invented the Poppy.

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Not only is this a place drenched in history, but because of that you´re likely to meet British school children on excursions.

In Flanders Fields

But of course you can´t miss the monuments – they´re everywhere. You cycle along a road, see a sign…

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… follow it across a field on a superbly kept path…

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… and there you are on yet another site of a forward medical post, a military hospital or just a battle site where so many soldiers were killed quite sense- and uselessly.

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This is the grave many British students on excursion leave a cross at. Look at the age of the soldier – he was the youngest Britain killed on active service in WWI.

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Very unusual to find a history of an officer´s educational carreer on his headstone. He was a student at the same public school as Robert Graves, btw. Also his family would have paid a handsome sum for the inscription – contrary to the stone itself and the standard data personal inscriptions at the base of the stone were not free and billed by the letter.

But you also find the smaller historical sites, like this field which once was a German airfield. It´s amazing how present WWI still is in the minds of the people.

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On a less sombre note, Flanders also is Volvo Country. The Volvo works in Ghent must have a part in this, although I just saw one 760, and no other 7/9 series cars. I can´t imagine what happened to them all, you see them everywhere else in Europe on a daily basis. In Flanders it´s the modern, flashy Volvos that dominate the roads. But then again, there´s the odd exception.

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That´s what happens if you leave a 140 series out in the open, close to the sea, for 20 odd years.

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Cycled past this one. Aren´t the rims ugly as hell?

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My trusty 940 Turbo near Ypres canal harbour…

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… and someplace else.

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All the chrome, lamps and other brightwork is still good – a real treasure trove

xvolvpolrear xvolvpolfront Not only Volvos to catch attention, though.

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A Citroen Méhari in really good nick

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Hi Nikki! Is this the one?

Our family were quite unanimous in that it won´t be long until we return to Flanders.

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