Travel Diary: Mmmm. I love Waffles.

It’s sad, but true… I think I might remember the food on this trip as much as the places and the people. But, who am I kidding… I love eating, no use pretending ;).

Here’s a few food confessions from a novice European traveller:

  • I have become so accustomed to having Espresso every day that I might need to get an actual espresso maker when we get home. It’s that good.
  • Apfelstrudel in Germany (served with some amazing custard-like sauce – a bit nut-meggy) is worth the jet lag.
  • Belgian Waffles in Belgium are nothing like the ones I try to make at home… when combined with nutella (which is actually FROM Belgium! Who knew?!), bananas, and gelato… well, oh my.
  • Paprika Nuts are delicious (also Made in Belgium).
  • Belgian CHOCOLATE. The. End.
  • 4EUR bottles of Bordeaux from the grocery store in France… are VERY, VERY, VERY drinkable.
  • Croissants.

But… quite a lot has been going on other than eating (I am happy to say that the 20,ooo+ steps we are getting every day seem to be accommodating for the above mentioned deliciousness. We are now in Caen, France… and I haven’t even begun to tell you about the amazing significance and beautiful sights we saw around Ypres, Belgium… but you can check out the boys blogs concerning our adventures in Trier and Bouillon on the road to Ypres.

Our first day in Ypres was a treat… partly because we did not get in the car AT ALL! Ypres is a beautiful town, with lovely walking paths, excellent restaurants (Flemish Stew is AMAZING!), and a plethora of tributes and reminders of WWI battles and fallen soldiers.

Panorama of Ypres from the top of the Bell Tower (Cloth Hall)

We began our day at the In Flanders Fields Museum… and 4 hours later came up for air! The museum is housed in the old town Cloth Hall (historic, medieval Ypres was well-known for their beautiful cloth trade, and the central Cloth Hall was a symbol of the prosperous nature of the town), and it is absolutely fantastic. If you are planning on visiting, it is well worth the extra cost to climb to the top of the Bell Tower. We were captivated by the history and significance of this area during WWI, and humbled by the sheer number of lives sacrificed in the battles… over 50,000 of their names are written on the wall of the Menin Gate in Ypres, once a grand entrance to a grand town, and now an historic and striking reminder of its war-torn past, and dedication to peace of this Belgian town.

Menin Gate, Ypres Belgium. The Cloth Hall is visible behind the gate.

 

Under the Menin Gate, reading some of the 50,000+ names written on the walls. We drove under this gate as we entered the city on our way to our hotel.

We finished this day with a beautiful run in a park surrounding the city. We did get a few strange looks as we ran amid the tourists though… What? People don’t run in Belgium?!

The last days of our pilgrimage in the Flanders area took us through the Belgian countryside, marvelling at the golden fields of wheat and barley, the cattle (every singe one of them a Belgian Blue!), horses (none of them actual Belgians as far as I could tell!), corn, and sleepy towns (each with at least one beautiful, Gothic church), and trying to imagine the moonscape and mud that were the Ypres Salient (front line) – the First, Second, and Third Battles of Ypres, Paschendale, and Vimy Ridge were particularly bloody battles that we were blessed to learn about and to now remember with a higher level of consciousness. What remains is a countryside literally changed by memorials, monuments, and cemeteries devoted to those who died. Many were named and laid to rest as known heroes to their families and countries… but many are laid to rest in unmarked graves. The striking similarity of each of these sites is the feeling of quiet and peace that they evoked in us all. When passing among the graves, I felt the air was a little stiller, a little warmer. I’m not sure what that is… whispers from those lost to never forget is what the signs and interpreters say. Surrounded by Canadian Maple trees, with Canadian Flags billowing, it is hard not to feel sad, proud, and fiercely protective of these fallen heroes. Truly, we must never forget.

In this case, pictures speak far louder than words…

We must never forget… and we must learn to do better, lessons from the past.

 

The names of the 12,000+ soldiers buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery are written on the walls surrounding the grave sites.

 

This photo is not staged. I found JJ sitting here… we were all very thoughtful during these visits.

 

Tyne Cot Cemetery

 

Rest in Peace.

 

Cattle graze peacefully beside the graves of fallen Canadian Soldiers at Tyne Cot Cemetery

 

Over 12,000 Canadian Soldiers are buried here. It is a strikingly beautiful and peaceful place.

 

The Brooding Soldier (the Second Battle of Ypres monument). This spot marks the beginning of the use of chemical warfare. A dark time in the history of this war… and for all mankind.

 

Many of the sites of Canadian war dead have been given to Canada by Begium. These government of Canada signs made us feel like we were coming home as we entered the sites.

 

Langemaark German Cemetery… this site is the final resting place of over 44,000 fallen German Soldiers, buried without the grandeur of Allied soldiers. This too, is a quiet, peaceful place… sons, husbands, and fathers that didn’t make it home.

 

On a lighter note… read this inscription. …children in Canada learn paper mache… we might need to step up our programs…

 

CT and JJ have asked to tell of our visits to Hill 62 (strategically important – Canadians fought to hold this hill, but were overtaken in June 1916), and Vimy Ridge (considered impregnable by German defenders, and Canadas Allies, but Canadians captured Vimy none-the-less in April, 1917), so I will leave that to them and give you the links once they are done. We are all spent emotionally after our days in Ypres. Our hearts are full, yet heavy at the same time. We love this place, because it feels a little bit like an extension of our place… just a world away.

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Travel Diary: Reichswald Forest War Cemetery and Cologne

On behalf of hubbie, I first need to say that when driving 185 Km/hr for the first time in your life, it is slightly aggravating as families driving their children to school in mini-vans pass you by. Just saying… our children, btw, have taken to this road trip like it is any other road trip we’ve been on (some of you might know, us Irvine’s do A LOT of car time!)… and were oblivious to our speedy adventure as they watched a movie!

Even when travelling faster than a speeding bullet, driving north towards Reichswald Forest War Cemetery (Kleve, GER) was stunning. The German countryside is picturesque… old barns, new barns, farms EVERYWHERE. It is harvest time here for some crops (we guessed Wheat, Barley, and Rye from what we could see, but we can’t be sure… again with the speed!).

My first footsteps on the Cemetery were extremely emotional. I was overcome with the loss… reading the gravestones we were reminded that each one represented a life – many of them young boys (16, 17, 18, 19 years old), and so many unnamed. This was our first taste of the cost of the Great War and it was powerful.

Cole and I reading the gravestones at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Our highest respect to those fallen.

A short walk in the forest was required after visiting the cemetery… giving us all time to reflect on what we had seen… for those of you travelling here in the future with children, I would recommend having some conversation starters ready to help the kids process what they learn and see in these regions (we will be in Flanders next, and visiting many museums and memorials where this will become more important). What we realize is that our children have come here with a glorified version of “war” that is both dangerous and unrealistic. It is also then, very confusing to them as they process emotions of grief, sadness, and loss as they understand more of the truth. We have had some wonderfully candid conversations as a result, and all of our hearts have been broken, and opened enough to yearn for peace for all.

And that was only the morning…

The rest of the day was much lighter. We stopped in Dusseldorf for a small lunch in the marketplace in the center of the city (Currywurst is one of my new favorite foods)… but more importantly, back to the driving… there are A LOT of road signs here that we do not understand. Daily google driving tutorials have become the norm. The boys have suggested a sign reading, “Canadians… doing our best!” as a possible strategy to avoid extreme disapproval from local drivers. It’s like this… Dusseldorf is a large city, the downtown is very busy, parking is difficult, and apparently there is still no excuse for slow or irregular driving… We’re doing our best…

Our day ended with our first tram ride to the center of Cologne…

Our first tram ride… in which the boys asked us, “Could you just pretend that you dont know us and sit over there?” Ummm… OK.

…where we encountered our first Cathedral (1280-1880!).

Kolner Dom – Koln Cathedral
Kolner Dom

The mythology surrounding the middle ages becomes something of reality when you gaze up at these behemoth gothic structures… and this one isn’t even one of the biggest! We ate dinner (our first Schnitzel of this trip… and the boys have quite taken to drinking Maltbier – kids non-alcoholic beer – which tastes a bit like sweetened regular beer… yuck, if you ask me…) overlooking the Rhein River, which was beautiful. And the people-watching… oh, the people watching!!

Looking for some Schnitzel in Koln…

The night finished with a beautiful walk along the river and watching the sunset behind the cathedral. I felt like we were walking in a postcard.

Time for sleep… in a beautiful city.

Travel Diary: Jet Lag is a real thing.

It has been two decades since I travelled across oceans. I remember being tired and somewhat bewildered at the beginning of that journey, but chalked that up to my inexperience as a young traveller on my own. Nope. That was Jet Lag. And so is this!

Our little family was greeted in Frankfurt by 34 Degrees C and humidity. It is HOT here! After approximately 2 hours and 41 minutes (thank you FitBit) of sleep during the “night,” I was feeling a bit tired and foggy… not so my young comrades. JJ (10) has a special way of becoming more and more energized the more exhausted he becomes – to the point of hysteria, actually. So, imagine him after only a couple of hours of sleep. He was moving at Mach 4 for the entire first day on the European continent. I was practicing deep breathing.

CT (12) travelled like a seasoned pro, and slept for a solid 4 or 5 hours… he woke up ready to tackle our adventure, which meant telling us every story he had ever heard about Germany, German people, German history, German food, German Language… bless his heart. I was practicing deep breathing.

Hubbie was on a mission to secure our car, which he did at lightning speed (or so it seemed to the three of us sitting on the airport floor practicing deep breathing). Her name is Skoda. She is lovely and speaks to us kindly when we get lost. She also warns us about traffic, changing speed limits (or lack thereof), and areas of higher pedestrian volume. She is also a little squishy… I packed lightly, but not light enough apparently.

The Skoda car… all loaded up and ready to go!

Note for potential European travellers: we have decided to road trip the entire journey… renting a car for the entire duration of our trip (and in the three countries we were visiting) was actually cheaper (including gas, tolls, and parking), than sporadically renting a car and using trains for longer distances. Definitely look into this option if you are planning a trip of your own.

After driving to Mainz from Frankfurt faster than a speeding bullet (OK, not exactly bullet-speed, but 150 km/hr is nothing to shake a stick at… hello Autobahn… and we were most definitely the slow ones), we arrived at the Novotel Mainz and set to the task of staying awake until 8 pm (our earliest bedtime to “fight” the Jet Lag). We swam in the pool, lounged in the spa, and walked until our feet might fall off… and stayed awake until 8:30!

Then woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 3:00 am. Yup. All 4 of us. Jet Lag: 1, Travelling Family: 0.

Melatonin is your friend when travelling.

We did manage to get back to sleep by about 4:00 am and all slept soundly again until 9 am.

Old town Mainz… I was having trouble with camera settings, the boys were smiling brightly one moment earlier!!

A few other tidbits… I am clearly in my homeland… if only for the food. I ate a baguette, salami, brie, and muesli with honey right out of the comb for breakfast. Yes I did. I will do it again tomorrow. Our hotel room coffee maker is an espresso maker. Yes it is. I plan on getting A LOT of steps on this journey to accommodate for these things…

The next leg of our journey takes us to Cologne (Koln)… and hopefully a good night’s sleep… I’ll keep you posted!