In Flanders fields the poppies grow, beneath the crosses row on row.
Most people know the opening line to this famous poem read aloud on Remembrance Day in Canada. Many know that it was written by a Canadian, but most wouldn’t be able to tell you that the soldier who wrote it was John McCrae.
We entered Belgium from the north, so we headed through Flanders before reaching Wallonie where I had spent a year as an exchange student. When we realized that the John McCrae memorial was less than an hour from where we were staying near Ghent, we went to check it out.
John McCrae was practicing medicine in Montreal when he volunteered in 1914 to be a military surgeon. He served in a military hospital near Ypres and was killed in 1918.
We saw the remains of the bunker that had housed the military hospital, and wandered around the cemetery where soldiers from Canada, France, Belgium and Britain are buried. It makes you reflect when you see the tombstones of young soldiers from so far away.
The next day we went to Bruges, which is another canal-based city in northern Europe. The city is beautiful to a walk around and not too big, so we were able to see it in one day.
Despite the quaint centuries-old buildings and the beautiful waterways, the kids were most excited about the chocolate shops. It seemed every second shop was a chocolateria (and every third sold waffles).
I admit I had hyped Belgian chocolate a bit to the girls. I had told them about a little praline-filled chocolate called a petit souris that is a small piece of heaven, so we were on the hunt to find them. We had to eat several from different shops before we found the exact one.
Continuing with the healthy theme (no one should expect any of us to come home all buff and in shape) we toured the Brewery de Halve Maan, because Belgium is almost more known for its beer than chocolate. There are about 800 different types of beer in the country, which is half the size of Vancouver Island.
We did skip the Fries Museum, although we have sadly not skipped eating fries. Pretty much the only vegetables we have been eating lately are potatoes.
We then travelled to Antwerp to visit yet another old friend (cue theme music for the rest of the trip). If you saw footage of the Brussels bombing, then you have a connection with my friend. His crew from VRT TV was the only one to get inside the airport before the police blocked it off. Notwithstanding the tragedy, I’m sure the station manager was a happy camper that day.
In all seriousness, we watch footage of conflicts and natural disasters from around the globe, but we rarely think about the people who take the images. Every so often we hear about a journalist who has been murdered, or someone who has been wrongly imprisoned, simply because they were doing their job.
But we should always remember that these are people with family and friends who care about them, and they risk their lives to help us stay informed.
We had many good laughs, listened to some great music, and tried several new beers in Antwerp before continuing south to the Ardennes.
Thanks for an awesome time, Indra!