Belgium here we come!


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Published: May 26th 2017
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Bruges canalsBruges canalsBruges canals

Lots of tree lined canals make for pleasant walking.
So, the time had come to head off on our two week “holiday” while Peter and Bev from Perth, Australia, did their home exchange with Sheila and Kevin. Dianne’s plan had us visiting Brussels, Lille (Vimy Ridge) and Paris. As usual, it was a great plan.

The trip

We flew Ryan Air to Brussels and getting to the airport was easy: walk to the bus stop, take a city bus to the airport and check in. How could it be easier? Well, we had tried to walk to the bus stop a couple of times and with the crazy curved streets that criss-cross an old city we managed to make mistakes the first two times and walked a lot further than we should have. This time, we made it. But just as the bus got to the airport highway about 10-12 police vehicles started down the highway with lights and sirens. Oh no, we thought; there was going to be trouble at the airport. There was but it wasn’t with the police. Check in and security were a breeze but Ryan Air loads their planes using outside staircases, Just as we got outside the skies opened and it poured….
Old BuildingsOld BuildingsOld Buildings

Did I mention we like looking at the old buildings that line the streets in the old city?
and poured…. We were soaked by the time we got on the plane and we didn’t dry out until we got to Brussels.

Brussels

We were visiting Bob and Rita, a couple we had met in Italy last year. We were supposed to phone them to confirm what bus we were taking from the airport to the Brussels Midi train station where they would pick us up. We hadn’t purchased a SIM card yet and my iPad battery was about to die so we had no way to contact them. After wandering around in the huge train station we managed to find an Orange store. Orange sells SIM cards and the fellow was very helpful to a couple of phone challenged foreigners. We phoned Bob and he said he was outside the train station where the bus stopped, waiting for us exactly where he said he would be. Great support.

Their large house, with a beautiful yard, is in Meise, a town on the north side of Brussels. They had booked two days to show us around. Great fun.

Bruges

We drove up to Bruges to tour the old city. The Golden Age of Bruges
Three amigosThree amigosThree amigos

Going through one of the old gates in town.
was the 1100-1500s but it gradually declined when the Zwin Channel silted up. It has had its up and downs since but now is a great tourist town with its canal system and historical buildings. We love walking around these old cities just soaking up the atmosphere from the grand buildings.

Lunch was at a beautiful country restaurant nearby. Bob had made reservations there as it is very popular and, despite its large size, it was full when we were there. Dianne had the Solettes meunière, mini-sole fillets, and they were delicious (she said). After much “encouragement” from Bob and Rita, I had the Anguilles meunière. This translates to "eel" which I would normally not have eaten in 100 years. They were delicious and did not taste at all like chicken. Everything comes with pommes frites but they, too, were outstanding. And the way they were served was classic. A waiter shows up with a huge dish of fries and serves them on your plate with a deft maneuver involving a fork and spoon. A class place. The son of the owner was schmoozing his way around the restaurant greeting all the regulars. When Bob him we were from
BeguinageBeguinageBeguinage

Beguines were "religious women", widows or spinsters, who wished to live an independent but committed life outside a recognized order with vows of fidelity and poverty, They organized themselves into self-supporting "cities of peace"
Canada he switched to English that sounded just like a native Canadian. Apparently his mother was from London, Ontario!

The company's web site is www.siphon.be and is worth looking at as there is a lot of video. There is even a quick picture of the eels before preparation. Bob told me they were river eels, not sea eels. That apparently makes all the difference.

Waterloo

I have read countless books on the Battle of Waterloo including Bernard Cornwell’s novels involving Richard Sharpe. I have always wanted to see the area. Bob and Rita were willing to drive us what turned out to be an amazingly short distance to the site. The visitor centre is fabulous with the best audio guide system I have seen to date. The information provided and the displays were great. It was followed by a walk up to the top of the Lion’s Mound, the huge man made mountain built by the Netherland’s King William I on the spot here his son was wounded during the battle. While it gives a great view of the battlefield it arguably alters the topography from the original battlefield. The story is that the Duke of Wellington was really annoyed because the dirt for the mound came from the slope he defended and it was difficult to see how brilliant his tactics were.

We walked to the Hougoumont farm which was one of the major battle-within-a-battle sites. It was almost totally destroyed in the battle but was restored as part of the 200th anniversary celebrations in 2015. It was interesting to walk where the battle actually happened.

Brussels

Bob and Rita had a family event to attend on the Sunday so they put us on a bus to downtown Brussels with great instructions on how to find all the things that interested us in the old part of the city. As usual, we walked miles (or was it kilometres) and saw lots of neat stuff. ToBeContinued.


Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


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The BourseThe Bourse
The Bourse

Or stock exchange dates from 1409 and it was one of the earliest, if not the first, of its type in Europe.
Bridge openBridge open
Bridge open

The canals can sometimes get in the way. We had to wait for a coal barge to go through. We were almost late for lunch!
WindmillsWindmills
Windmills

After seeing many modern wind turbines it was a treat to see an old fashioned windmill.
Les Anguilles meunièreLes Anguilles meunière
Les Anguilles meunière

I already had a plateful of the little beggars. This was what was left for a second helping. Yum.
Brussels trafficBrussels traffic
Brussels traffic

The ring road around Brussels and many of the roads are chock-a-block with traffic all the time.
Waterloo Lion's Mound from a distanceWaterloo Lion's Mound from a distance
Waterloo Lion's Mound from a distance

The monument built by William I of the Netherlands
The battlefieldThe battlefield
The battlefield

Maps abound. The area looks pretty big until you realize how many soldiers, cavalry, cannons etc were involved in the battle.
One casualtyOne casualty
One casualty

This skeleton was unearthed later and provided an incredible amount of information about some of the combatants.
View from the Lion's MoundView from the Lion's Mound
View from the Lion's Mound

You can most of the battlefield from the top of the mound. Had it been there in 1815 it would have given someone a big advantage.
The LionThe Lion
The Lion

Looking towards France to make sure there would be no more trouble,
Chapel at the Hougoumont farmChapel at the Hougoumont farm
Chapel at the Hougoumont farm

The remains of the chapel are all that were left of the original farm.
The restored gates of  Hougoumont farmThe restored gates of  Hougoumont farm
The restored gates of Hougoumont farm

Give you an idea of what it was like to be a defender (or an attacker) during the battle.
Three treesThree trees
Three trees

These old oak trees are all that are left from the wooded area around the farm that kept Napoleon from moving up his cannon to blast the farm. There are many musket balls embedded in the trunks.


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