Day 4 – Seaside Rendezvous

This morning we were leaving not only the town of Dubrovnik, but also the country of Croatia for the rest of the trip (well, until we have to go back to the airport at the end), so we repacked our bags and had breakfast on the go. We hired a driver through a car service to take us from Croatia to our next stop, Perast, Montenegro with a stop in Herceg Novi for lunch. We wheeled our luggage across the shiny cobblestones and stole a few glances of the old city for the last time, happy we got a second at Dubrovnik but it was definitely time to leave.

Our driver arrived early in a black Opel. His name is Jasmin and he struggled out of the vehicle with a cane, so told him not to worry and loaded the bags ourselves. During our drive to the border(s), Jasmin pointed out a lot of interesting facts about the surrounding area (why an island is cursed, which mega yacht with helicopter and submarines belongs to a Russian oligarch, where he lived when the Serbians invaded) and had some real talk that has been repeating and resonating a lot with me lately – live your life to the fullest, because you never know when it can all get taken away from you. Six years ago Jasmin had been riding his motorcycle when he had an aneurysm that left him completely paralyzed. His wife sold his car rental business and left him. He now has full use of his limbs and is working again, often mentioning how lucky he is, instead of complaining about his lot.

The border between Croatia and Montenegro is like a double border – you go through a crossing to leave Croatia, then through a no man’s land, then another crossing to enter Montenegro. Both crossings went smoothly, and soon we were coming upon Herceg Novi, a quaint little old town (although Novi means “new”) that sits on the north end of the Bay of Kotor. Jasmin said he would chill by the car and smoke while we went into the old town for some lunch.

The old town is tiny, but clean and cute. We picked a restaurant with a charming owner and funny waitress and dined on beer, salad and fries and made friends with the local cats.

After getting the obligatory fridge magnets, shot glass and post cards (and trying to get away from the book seller trying to sell me his book of sonnets in English, French and German), we met back up with Jasmin and headed deeper into the Bay towards Perast.

Perast is very small, and the main seaside street is pedestrian only. Jasmin called our hotel to advise them that we were close, and the staff met us at the gate in a hotel branded golf cart. We said our goodbyes to Jasmin and scooted off to our hotel, sitting perfectly in an old stone building with the adjacent restaurant jutting out over the Adriatic Sea.

Perast is not very big, and the majority of the village is lined along the water; seafood restaurants, boat rentals, stone piers.

We dumped our things on our wood-beamed room and headed out to walk the seaside street. The weather is interesting and ever changing here. The Bay of Kotor is Europe’s southernmost fjord, so the bay is nestled between green stony mountains. Like in Vancouver, the clouds get stuck over the mountains, dumping their payload there while the bay lies drenched in sunshine. The water is clear and aquamarine, warm on my toes and the briny breeze reminds me of home.

We chose to stay in Perast over the more popular Kotor, as Kotor hosts cruise ship crowds and we wanted to take a break from getting bumped into.

We came across a bar hanging over the sea and decided to take a break for a beer (sorry Croatia, the beer is definitely better in Montenegro) where we relaxed and talked about the upcoming Canadian federal election.

We paid our tab and realized it was time for dinner, so we headed back to the restaurant attached to our hotel, lauded by the internet and travel books alike for its outstanding seafood dishes. Sadly for us, none of us really eat seafood, so we tried their non-fish fare (which was mediocre at best).

After dinner we turned in for the night, watching the lights from across the bay sparkle and turn in the emerald water.

Day 3 – It’s Like Thunder, Lightning…

Today is our last day in Dubrovnik before we ease down the coast of Montenegro, and we woke up to torrential rain and crazy thunder and lightning. In Vancouver we’re known for rain, but this was some RAIN. We took our time getting ready, bought a couple of umbrellas and headed for a leisurely breakfast overlooking the old marina. We watched as tour after tour group paraded by, a walking rainbow of waterproof ponchos shuffling by.

After breakfast we headed to the first of two monasteries we wanted to see, this one being Dominican. The Dominican Monastery is known for its beautiful chapel and peaceful cloister, as well as a good collection of artwork. As I am not a religious person, I try to enjoy the monasteries and cathedrals for what they are – architectural feats and priceless pieces of art.

The entrance fee is a pittance, but we paid in trying to navigate around the tour groups, walking slowly and bleeding into every walkable crevice so that when we got caught in a tour group, we kind of had to make the same movements as the tour group.

We made our way to the cloister right away, quiet and lush, an oasis in the middle of the busy arid city.

We moved into the small art gallery, filled with dim and dark brush strokes depicting Jesus suffering and the sainted patrons who helped bank roll the church. What I was most interested in was a 15th century book of motets and mass (think post chant, pre JS Bach), with square runes instead of round note heads. I wish I could read them.

After enough time fawning over the relics of martyrs, we headed towards the other monastery of interest, the Franciscan. In order to get there, we had to cross town, shoulder to shoulder with every other person ever, so we decided to take a less busy back alley.

A back alley in old Dubrovnik is a delightful thing – lined with quaint cafes and restaurants, lamps, greenery, cats and galleries – out of the sun and myriad of people. We reached the Franciscan Monastery, paid not the right amount (the front desk clerk could be described as “day drunk” and gave us a deal) and entered again into a serene cloister, very similar to the Dominican one.

The main reason why we wanted to visit this monastery was because it houses one of the oldest still operational pharmacies in the world (3rd oldest in Europe). There was a small museum and gallery in this monastery as well, with a wall dedicated to the ancient instruments and bottles of tinctures from the days of yore.

There were again more paintings, relics, and a few hymnals from the 14th, 15th and 16th century, but the most impactful thing for me, was a framed hole in the wall labeled “shell shot December 6 1991”. We haven’t talked a lot about the Balkan War on this trip, but on the previous mentioned date the Yugoslav Army (later called the Serbian Army) bombarded Dubrovnik’s old town, leading to worldwide condemnation and sanctions. The army retreated and left Croatia to declare their independence (only to siege Sarajevo for 4 horrible bloody years that somehow evaded the notice of the West). I think the reason that the Balkan War resonates with me is not only because I fell in love with Bosnia 5 years ago, but because I remember the War. I was young, but I remember hearing names like “Sarajevo”, “Serbia” and “Milosovic”, and we have been able to speak with people who lived through it. Anyway.

We were keeping our eyes to the skies as we had read that there was another storm moving into the city, so we decided to grab a drink by Onofrio Fountain (our waiter asked “do you have somewhere safe to go? There will be storm”) and an ice cream while we watched the black clouds roll in (I had mint chocolate, Pa had “Game of Thrones” flavour, which is dark chocolate and rum). We got back to our apartment in time to hear the skies to rumble and light, followed by the deluge. We listened to podcasts and played games on our devices as we waited out the weather. Around 1700hrs the clouds broke, the blue skies came back and we headed to a beautiful restaurant for some happy hour cocktails (Pa had Glenmorangie scotch, Ma had some sort of virgin berry cinnamon concoction and I had a raspberry rum cocktail) and a delicious dinner of roasted chicken and ratatouille.

As the sun set over the old city, we wandered back to our apartment for the last time, taking in the smells of lavender and incense and the golden glow of the buildings.

Day 2 – Out On the Tiles

This morning we were up bright and early (brighter and earlier than we intended as we’re still on incredibly jet-lagged) as we wanted to walk the old city walls and ramparts, and we wanted to do it before the crowds as before the heat got too oppressive. The walls are the most recommended thing to do and we didn’t get a chance to walk them during Dubrovnik 2014, so we made sure we did them this time.

We got to the entrance by the Ploče Gate by 7:55, and it opens at 8:00, which we’ve learned by now is merely suggestion, and not a hard and fast rule. We were 2nd in line with a queue already forming, and the poor gate worker could not get the ticket machine working. It’s not something he could just wave people in for free – entrance is about $20CAD. After about 10 minutes of fumbling, trouble shooting and calls to what I assume is Croatian tech support, the poor significantly sweatier man got the machine working, and we were through.

The walls were originally built in the 9th century and further fortified in the 14th century in order to keep out the Turks (a common theme in the area). You can also see the difference in the orange tiled roofs – faded tiles are obviously older, bright orange indicates the roof and/or building didn’t survive the significant shelling during the Balkan War of the 1990s.

The walls are almost 4km with lots of stairs and ramps along the way, and for someone whose limbs can best described as “dachshund-esque”, some of the stairs were pretty challenging. The views made the blasting of my quads, hams and glutes worthwhile, with a total panorama every step along the way.

One thing I always think is interesting when huffing around in 29 degree weather is the fashion. When I travel I wear pretty basic clothing – black pants, black low-cut top – the Kelly uniform. There were women in sky-high espadrilles, women in unflattering tune tops, women in shockingly short dresses, schlepping their shit up all those stairs. If they can stay cool and comfortable, more power to them.

The sun started to really punish us, so we stopped at one of the many refreshment stands along the walls for some orange juice, but were swiftly talked into some “signature” drink there. Turns out, this pink concoction contained not only oranges, but also beets and carrots. Not super refreshing or tasty, but very healthy.

The wall walk ended up being more interesting with more beautiful views than I was expecting, so I’m glad we did it and would recommend it to visitors! It’s supposed to take about an hour, but it took us two, as we stopped a lot to take what felt like the same photo 30 times.

It was a little after 1000hrs when we exited the ramparts so we decided to get a lot of water and coffee as well as some brunch in a beautiful restaurant that faces the marina so that we could people watch and watch the boats come and go. The coffee was delicious and our water looked like Croatian Javier Bardem.

The rest of the day was a relaxing one. We left the marina and headed for Buža 2 – another bar built into the rocks on the outside of the wall. They didn’t have the lemon beer that Pa and I have come to love, but they had cold beer and beautiful views in spades.

After our drinks and a mid day siesta, we went to a tobacco shop to buy some stamps and then set up shop at one of our favourite people watching restaurants along the stradun where we sipped more beers and I wrote and sent some postcards to some of my nearest and dearest. Again the parade of people was a fascinating sight – tour groups, bros, a bridal party, screaming children with disinterested parents. After dinner, we headed to back to our apartment around the corner, as it took every last ounce of strength to wash my face and brush my teeth before crashing into bed at the ripe old hour of 1930hrs.

Day 1: Well It’s A Hot One

After a relatively eventless travel day yesterday (Vancouver to Frankfurt, 4 hour layover including beer and pretzels, Frankfurt to Dubrovnik) we arrived at our apartment in the heart of the old town at around 1800hrs. Our apartment is mercifully air conditioned and surprisingly quiet, as all around it restaurants, markets and tchotchke shops are bustling.

This is actually our 2nd time in Dubrovnik. We originally came in 2014 during our Balkan odyssey where things went awry mere days into the trip, as on day 2 in Sarajevo Pa tripped on a low post and shattered his elbow into a bajillion pieces. After 5 days in a Bosnian hospital, 2 surgeries and a bunch of steel in his arm, Pa met up with us in Dubrovnik, only getting to spend half a day there and drowning his sorrows in spaghetti after eating only what can be described as gruel at the hospital. Obviously, we wanted to recreate our memories of the city.

This morning we wanted to get up and out to not only beat the heat early, but also beat some of the crowds – Dubrovnik’s popularity has skyrocketed since it was burned to crisp by some dragon lady in some show (I’m kidding. I know it’s called King’s Landing in Game of Thrones). We had a delicious and leisurely breakfast on the main stradun, enjoying some French toad while listening to American rockabilly before we started to amble around.

We wandered out to the water, clear and emerald green and turquoise, where boat tour operators hawked their business and bikini-clad twenty-somethings headed for the cliffs.

We walked as far as the path would allow before we turned back, seeking shade against the already oppressive sun. Even by 11am, most people were sporting sweat-soaked spots on their shirts.

One of the cooler spots in the old town is a place called Buža, or “Hole”, because you quite literally have to crawl through a hole in the city walls to get there. Once through the hole you climb down stone stairs to a bar, shaded by bamboo and clinging to the rocks overlooking the Adriatic. The view is spectacular, and although the drinks are expensive, you’re really paying for the experience. Because we were there relatively early, we grabbed a good table facing the sea and enjoyed a few beers (and a Fanta for Ma).

Leaving Buža we noticed the town was busier (cruise ships had moored) and the sun was hotter. Me, and already ghostly white person, had started to pink about a half an hour in the sun.

We wandered around back alleys and passageways until we came upon the Spanish Steps. The steps are a beautiful grand staircase that connect the upper part of the old town to the main level, and I think I heard the words “shame walk” a dozen times – these stairs are prominently featured in an episode of Game of Thrones where Cersei takes her walk of shame (I don’t know the story behind it, I’ve never watched the show). Tour guides were scattered about the steps, all holding up pictures of Lena Headey in her questionable pixie cut.

Ma and I decided that we should continue our travel tradition and pick up some fridge magnets (and me some postcards for some choice friends), so we walked up one of the main market streets, mottled with shops selling jewellery, lavender goods, licensed Game of Thrones merchandise, and typical souvenirs. By this time the streets were packed, everyone bumping elbows and jostling each other to get around. We took respite in an ice cream shop that we had noticed the night before, as it had a line up out the front door. I had a lemon pie ice cream and could see what all the hubbub was about.

Sweaty, sun-weary and jet lagged, we decided to head back to our apartment for a brief siesta in order to cool down and take a bit of a snooze.

About 2 hours later we were ready to get sweaty again, so we went to the main stradun, grabbed an outdoor table at a restaurant and sipped lemon beers while we watched the people go by. Soon, it was dinner time so we made for a large square where we ate spaghetti and roast chicken before retiring for the night.

Day 24: The End of the Road

This is my last post of the trip as tomorrow is our last full day and we’ll be just relaxing and I won’t be taking any photos.

We decided to take the day to explore Antwerp. We had a lovely breakfast and headed to the Church of Our Lady, a giant Catholic/Calvinist/Catholic Church in the middle of the old town that houses 4 paintings by Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens. The church also has one really big tower and one noticeably less grand one beside it, as the money had run out and they did what they could to just finish it up.

I found the Rubens works to be very dramatic, lots of movement, but not my favourite style of art. The Rubens pieces in the church actually inspires a story called A Dog of Flanders about a boy named Nello and his dog Patrasche who spend all the spare time they can revelling in the beauty of the paintings. The story is very sad and ends tragically, and attracted a Japanese diplomat who brought the story back to Japan in the early 1900s, and to this day is a popular story among Japanese youths. There is a tribute to Nello and Patrasche out front of the church.

After saying goodbye to Rubens, Nello and Patrasche, we headed to the square over, that houses one of the landmarks of Antwerp, the Brabo Fountain.

The story is, is that back in the day there was a cruel giant who lived in the area named Druon Antigoon. Antigoon would guard a bridge along the river Scheldt and collect taxes from those crossing or passing. If you couldn’t pay, Antigoon would rip off their hand and toss it in the river. Finally, a brave Roman soldier named Brabo killed the giant, cut off his hand and threw it in the river. According to legend, in Flemish it was called “hand werpen” (hand + to throw), which is how the city got its name of Antwerpen.

We hung out with Brabo, then decided to grab some lunch and a beer in the sunny square.

Following lunch we headed to the river side and took the old clacking wooden escalator to St. Anna’s Tunnel, a 900m under ground tunnel that takes you under the river. We considered walking the length of the tunnel, but the cyclists zipping past us made us nervous, so we went back to the surface.

We headed further north to the industrial/port area of the city, where stands a gleaming modern structure of brick and glass, the Museum Aan de Stroom, or MAS.

MAS is 10 floors of art exhibition, from the Flemish Masters to modern photography. The sun was pressing, so we tucked into the MAS cafe for a beer and some ice cream. The roof of MAS is a free panorama, and Pa and I wanted to check it out (Ma wanted to stay more grounded), so we took the 10 escalators to the very top and looked over the rooftops of Antwerp.

Back on solid ground, we walked back into the old town, to a restaurant where we had reservations for dinner with our cousin Dominique and this time with his wife Els, daughter Eva, son Cédric (my 3rd cousins), and Dominique’s parents (who would have been 1st cousins with my grandfather Joseph). We drank beer and dined on Flemish classics (stoofvlees, a beef and beer stew served with frites) and got to know each other better, share stories and DeCaigny history and characteristics. We ate dessert and drank coffee, took photos and sadly parted ways, my head buzzing with the connection I had made with a family member I just met this week.

Sunday afternoon we fly out of Schiphol, 11 months until our next European sojourn. Thanks for joining me this year.

Day 23: La rue est une musée pour tous

This is one of the longer trips we’ve taken, and as such, we’re starting to get tired. Not just physically tired, but tired of seeing things and going places. This morning we were slow to get up and hemmed and hawed about our plans to go to Brussels for the day. We finally decided that we should go, as we did want to at least the Grand-Place.

We walked from our apartment to the Antwerpen-Centraal train station and noticed a lot of diversity on our walk – Muslim women in hijabs, Hasidic Jewish men in rekelech, hip young people and elegant older people.

When we reached the train station we grabbed some breakfast and admired the beautiful station.

We bought our train tickets (the ticket for seniors is literally twice the size of an adult ticket. Like large print), cuddled a cute dog, then hopped on a train for the 50 minute trip south. My cousin Dominique had said that in Brussels they tend to speak French rather than Flemish, so I mentally prepared to re-dust off my already dusty French lexicon.

The Brussels-Central station drops you off pretty much in the middle of the old town, so we walked through the train station, by the art nouveau Belgian Comic Book Station to our first stop, Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert.

The Galeries is a long glass-covered arcade, lines with fancy jewellery shops and chocolatiers. We walked up and down, sampled some chocolates and picked out which watch costing tens of thousands of Euros we would choose.

We then headed to the Grand-Place. Full of tour groups and school groups, gilded with gold ornamentation and quite literally smelling of waffles, we walked around the square and decided which sunny patio we wanted to occupy for lunch.

We found a Rick Steves recommended restaurant, squeezed into the patio and enjoyed some beer, pizza, and Ma tried a Brussels waffle, which she said was markedly different from the sweeter Liège waffle.

We finished up our lunch and I wanted to see Mannekin Pis, the statue of the little boy peeing. On the way we noticed the Tintin Boutique. For those of you who don’t know, Tintin is the comic book character created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known as Hergé. I picked up some Tintin postcards and a Tintin planner and we went back to the streets. All along the street was waffle shops, beer stores, chocolatiers, and souvenir hawkers.

We reached the Mannekin Pis, underwhelming as he was, dressed in a jaunty outfit.

Our final stop, which I almost forgot about, was the Delirium Café. We walked through the Grand Place, again through les Galeries, turned off and down what was more than a café, but a Delirium block.

Pa and I decided on the Beer Cave, which boats over 2004 different beers available. I had a Delirium Red on tap and hiked along to Free Bird, which started playing on the sound system.

Pa and I could have stayed down there forever, but Ma wasn’t quite as keen as we were, so we headed back into the real world and the sunshine, and back to Antwerp for dinner and bed.

Day 22: The Long and Winding Road

Today I took 1 photo on my camera and we didn’t really do much worth writing about. But here I am, nonetheless.

This morning we slept in a little, had breakfast said goodbye to Varlet Farm as well as Ypres, Poelkapelle, Zonnebeke, and Passchendaele as we loaded up the car and headed an hour north east to Ghent to drop the car off (so glad we were able to return it un-dented and undamaged). We grabbed a cab to the train station and took the hour train ride, again north east to our final destination, Antwerp. The Antwerpen-Centraal station is gorgeous (photos tomorrow) and we had lunch in a delightful café in the train station and looked for a cab on a street lined with diamond shops.

The cab ride to our apartment was unpleasant – when we gave the driver the address, he said it was 1km away and chastised is for wasting his time and losing his place in line. We offered to get out but he passive-aggressively groaned that we could stay and he would drive us. After notably much further than 1km, we arrived at our apartment with our delightful host Arthur waiting outside. We begrudgingly paid the driver and schlepped our shit up the 4 story walk up to a wonderful, bright and modern apartment. Arthur wrote us a wonderful list of sites and restaurants, and we tucked in for the night, snacking on baguette with salted butter, ice cream and beer.

Day 21: We Built This City

Today was a special day for me so forgive me while I self-indulge.

A few years ago Pa was contacted on Facebook by a man from Belgium named Dominique who had the same last name as us. He asked if we were possibly related, so Pa responded with the ancestry that we were aware of, and discovered that Pa’s great-grandfather Ivo was brothers with Dominique’s great grandfather (making Pa and Dominique second cousins). Dominique was working on the family history and trying to trace not only the DeCaigny diaspora, but the DeCaigny ancestry as far back as he could. We kept in touch with Dominique on Facebook and Instagram and this year when we decided to visit Belgium, we were excited that we could meet him in person. And that was today.

We met Dominique hiding from the rain under the Belfry of the tiny West Flanders town of Tielt. We hugged and started chatting right away. Dominique had made some pretty special plans for the day, but we wanted to start by getting better acquainted, so we headed towards a coffee shop that was sadly closed, but it was the original house in Tielt that our ancestor Romain bought in the 1600s. Apparently Romain was quite adept at buying and flipping houses. He also built the top of the Belfry (UNESCO World Heritage Site).

We tucked into an open cafe, drank coffee, got to know each other and exchange gifts (Dominique made us beautiful books detailing the family history along with photos and documents).

Our next stop was the City Hall of Tielt, where our last name was immortalized in stained glass. There was also a painting of an ancestor who had fought in a few wars and lost his left hand (visible in the painting).

Next, Dominique managed to secure viewing some documents with the city archivist Hannes. Hannes has pulled a few books and papers to show us and also had encyclopedic knowledge of the entire history of the town. Hannes showed us a land book from the 1600s written by an ancestor, Romain DeCaigny’s death announcement, and my great grandfather Jules’ birth registry (which also mentioned my great great grandfather Ivo). Jules moved to Canada with his wife Léontine in 1913 and settled in St. Boniface, Manitoba.

Hannes was clearly very passionate and loved his job as the archivist. For fun, he showed us one of the archives, then put on white gloves to show us the oldest document they have there, a testimony by an spinster, written on animal-skin parchment in the 1300s. The whole thing was like my very own episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?”.

We had a break for lunch where me, Pa and Dominique clinked beer glasses together for the first time. One of the many things that I learned from Dominique is that although the last name is French and probably came from France originally, the DeCaigny’s are Flemish (Dutch-speaking).

After lunch we hit the streets of Tielt, with Dominique giving us some WWI history in the city. During the War, Tielt was occupied by the Germans, who turned Tielt into their Flanders headquarters. Homeowners were kicked out to make way for soldiers and commanders, and it was in Tielt where the decision was made to use chlorine gas.

We then went to the local church, Saint Peter’s, where my great grandfather Jules married Léontine, and where many DeCaigny’s were baptized and/or buried.

The weather has cleared up and Dominique had one more surprise for us before we parted ways – he secured himself some of what was voted the best beer in the world 3 years in a row – Brouwerij De Sint-Sixtusabdij Van Westvleteren 12. We found a picnic table in a leafy park and sat down while Dominique poured the beer into the appropriate bar ware and told us the story of how you buy the notoriously difficult to acquire beer.

You can’t buy the beer just anywhere, you can only buy it from the brewery at the Monastery, and the monks only brew enough per month to support themselves and no more. If you’re interested in buying the beer, you go on the website, and they tell you what time you can call to order. They only have 1 phone line, so Dominique had 2 cell phones with him and would alternate calling over and over for an hour. When you get through you say how many cases you want and you give your license plate number and they tell you the time frame that you can come and pick it up. When you pick it up, they know your order from you license plate, you pay and load up your car.

I was a little concerned about drinking in the park, so this is how the conversation went with Dominique:

Me: are we allowed to drink in the park?

Dominique: allowed?

Me: won’t we get in trouble?

Dominique: in trouble from who?

Me: the police.

Dominique: what would the police do?

Me: in Canada you can’t drink in public. You could get a ticket.

Dominique: really? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

The beer was really delicious, smooth and rich, and definitely worth the kerfuffle that Dominique had to go through to get it. We finished our beers and made plans to see Dominique with the rest of his family on Friday in Antwerp, said our goodbyes, and headed back to Poelkapelle for one last sleep at the Farm.

Day 20: In Flanders Fields

Today was another war day, focusing on WWI and the involvement of Canadians in the Ypres-Salient.

Our first stop of the day was Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery. Tyne Cot is the largest commonwealth cemetery in the world and is the final resting place for 11,965 Brits, Scots, Irishmen, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians and more. Of the almost 12,000 graves, 8,369 are unnamed, and just bear the phrase “A Soldier of the Great War”. Along with the graves there is a wall that stretches the width of the cemetery and on it is written the 34,959 names of the men who are unaccounted for.

After braving the elements and finding a possible relative of Ma’s on the wall, we headed to the next site, the Canadian Passchendaele Memorial. At the front of the Memorial is an iron gate, and there is an identical one in Halifax, Nova Scotia that was the last steps soldiers would take in Canada before being shipped off to war.

The main part of the Memorial is a concrete slab on a mound, honouring those who fought and those who died in the second battle of Passchendaele.

The next stop was a monument that was the runner-up for the Vimy Ridge design, called the Brooding Soldier. This monument was erected at what was once known as Vancouver Corner, but is now Sint-Julien Memorial, and it is where when the Germans released the first gas attack, the Canadians held the line.

Finally, we drove the short 15 minutes into the downtown of Ypres. We parked the car in the market square, had a long leisurely lunch, and went to the In Flanders Fields Museum, a very thorough look at WWI in the the city’s cloth hall.

The museum was enormous, comprehensive and interactive. We didn’t realize quite how long we’d been there for, as pretty soon we heard on the loud speaker they would closing in 20 minutes. We finished what we could and headed out to take in old Ypres.

We walked down the main street to the Menin Gate. The Gate was built in 1927 to commemorate those British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres-Salient in WWI and who had no known grave. They initially though the gate would be large enough to hold the number of the missing (54,896 inscribed on the Gate) but they ran out of room, which is why there is the memorial wall at Tyne Cot.

There is a ceremony that takes place at Menin Gate at 2000hrs every night which we wanted to see, but we had a few hours to kill, so we tucked into a pub, had a few beers and chatted with the locals before finding a spot at the Gate.

The Last Post has been performed at Menin Gate at 2000hrs every night since July 2 1928 (except during WWII when Ypres was occupied) and our ceremony featured the buglers, then 7 or 8 families laying memorial wreaths of poppies.

After about 15 minutes the ceremony was over, and we headed back to the car and drove back to the farm as the sun set on West Flanders.

Day 18: Truckin’

This morning we got up slowly, packed our bags, ate breakfast and said goodbye to Marc, Sébastien, A La Maison Blanche and Fécamp as we hit the road heading east towards West Flanders in Belgium. We will be heading back to France for a day this week, but the rest of our sleeps will be in Belgium.

The drive from Normandy to West Flanders and we were all feeling a little weary, so we decided to take our time, taking lunch at a bakery outside of Amiens and pulling into our B&B at 1600hrs.

Ma and Pa have stayed at this B&B before. Varlet Farm is an actual working farm (potatoes and celeriac) as well as bed and breakfast and de facto WWI museum. Its location in a town called Poelkapelle (right beside Passchendaele and 15 minutes outside of Ypres) meant that it was right in the thick of the fighting of WWI, and as such the family who run the farm find war relics, shell casings and unexploded ordinances in and around the grounds on the regular.

We were greeted by Barbara who offered us coffee, tea and apple cake as well as pamphlets and brochures of nearby sites to explore.

We checked into our room and I wanted to get a least few photos for the day, so I wandered the grounds and barn, where they display the war artifacts, along with informative posters explaining the process of what happens when they discover unexploded ordinances, as the police get around 3,500 calls per year about them.

At about 1730hrs we went into town (Poelkapelle) for some dinner and went to a recommended frites restaurant where we were back into the Belgian beer, double fried frites and GOOD mayonnaise (sorry, France). Once the restaurant had thoroughly filled up with screaming children, we headed back to the Farm for more beer and we all read until it was time to listen to the BC Lions game, then bed.