Tuesday, May 6, 2008


May 4, 2008

Hello everyone!

This will be a short letter – not because there is so little to say but because we are lucky enough to have access to WI-FI here at the campground in Gent, Belgium.

After our day at the Keukenhof gardens we spent the evening in the small campground nearby. Then we began our first “long” journey. We went from Lisse, near Amsterdam, to Moergestel near Tilburg in the southern part of The Netherlands. It’s about a 50-mile journey. We were booked to stay overnight at the small town where there is a campground and to leave the next morning to go to Belgium with our friends from Tilburg. We talked about where we’d like to go – and decided on Ypres, the Belgium town that was the scene of a horrific battle in World War I. We called the campground there to make a reservation – and were turned down because they were full. We called another. They were also full.

This is, after all, Europe. On Wednesday, in the Netherlands, it was the Queen’s Birthday. Then Thursday, May 1 was Labor Day and Ascension Day, both of which are holidays. Next week there is one of our favorites (because we never heard of it before). Sunday May 11 is Pinksterstag and Monday May 12 is Second Day of Pinksterstag. (We believe that it celebrates the day that the apostles decided that Jesus was an immortal.) Despite the fact that it is a Catholic holy day in non-religious The Netherlands, everything will be closed both days. There are lots of holidays in Europe.

This is one of the big differences between Europe and the U.S. Our friend Maartje has a job that is particularly good in terms of vacations: she gets 13 weeks of paid vacation per year. Most people get “only” six. There are probably those among you who will sputter about productivity and growth – but they should be aware now that Europe is in far better shape than the U.S. is. Their “euro” is worth about $1.60!

But we must get back to our journey. As we sat in the living room in Tilburg, we hit upon a solution to the problem of full campgrounds. We’d call the huge campground in Gent (Blaarmeerson) where they might have room. And they did – although if we had not called ahead, we’d have been out of luck. Big as they are, they were indeed full up for the holiday weekend. To see Ypres, we will drive from Gent to Ypres in Cees’ camper, which is both smaller than ours and much faster. Those of you who have read our letters before or who have read our book (Take Your RV to Europe) know that our 21.5 foot motor home has a teeny four cylinder Toyota engine which needs to drag around a whole house.

We met Cees & Maartje in Gent at the campground, settled our vehicles in and then took the bus to the center of the city. Ron and I have always loved the city of Gent. The center has three or four stunning churches, one of which owns the Van Eyck altar piece called “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”. We spent a lovely afternoon just walking around. We enjoyed it, but it resulted in our getting to St. Bavo’s too late to see this masterpiece.

Next morning we left for Ypres. Ypres is beautiful, of course, with architecture dating from the 1300’s through the 18th century, but it was quite clear from the information we gathered from the museum that most of it had been rebuilt after WWI. Ypres was the death ground of 100,000 (!) of its British, Commonwealth & Belgian defenders. The museum that we saw had a huge and very interesting exhibition showing how many countries were involved in that terrible war. Somehow, we had never really understood how universal that war was. It also had a number of permanent exhibits about the war, including one room in which shells went off and there was a tremendous amount of yelling and confusion – to simulate life in the trenches.

There were a tremendous number of tourists in Ypres – including many groups of school children, some from Belgium, but others from Britain and other European countries. They went through the museum as well as the arch which lists 35,000 soldiers from all over the world who were killed but whose bodies were never found. After our visit to the city, we went to find the Yorkshire trenches – which were found not too long ago. The outside trench is all that can be seen, but they found an entire encampment 30 meters under the earth. A large group of school children on bikes was there before us!

We returned to our campsite in Gent for the evening, and the next morning drove to the site of another war in Belgium. We went to Waterloo where Wellington defeated Napoleon. This museum was considerably less informative or interesting, so we do not recommend it. Ron and Cees opted to climb the 225 steps to the top of a huge monument…but they found it uninteresting. There was not enough information about troop positions or anything else for that matter to help you to understand what happened there. Maartje and I went into see a movie that was somewhat better. But it was obvious that there was no big push for education involved with this entire affair. If this had been a British museum, we would have known all about troops, troop movements and why Napoleon lost!

We saw what there was to see and then spent a long time in a huge supermarket. It was a great day.

Now we are sitting in the campground getting this letter ready. Then we are off to France. A bien tot.

Adelle & Ron

1 comment:

viimneliivlane said...

Waterloo / the most famous of them all, and you found it 'uninteresting'! You must go back again and do the following: dispense with the movie, forget climbing the monument. Instead, drive over the farmfields to where the rear of the French forces were. There you will see where the natural battleground terrain of undulating fields (dotted with stone farmhouses where you can keep your powder dry) ends and the meaning of "covering your rear" kicks in. The terrain drops off into a heavily wooded gorge. This is where Prussian troops crept up on the rear of the French army and took out their young, untried troops, then progressed toward the front lines where the regular, more experienced soldiers were facing off Wellington's men.

At the edge of the gorge you will see a tasteful monument to the unsuspecting young French troops - surrounded by a small hedge and in the middle of a crossroads where people know they can lay flowers. If you look left up into a grove of trees, you will see, almost hidden and inside a fence, a monument to the fallen Prussian soldiers...
Waterloo taught the British the importance of forming coalitions which was very important in later warfare.
We know that Belgium was created as a buffer between enlightened France and authoriatarian Germany, however, who would have thought that that meant it would be a perpetual battleground rather than a cultural melting pot.
I myself am all in favor of dividing it back into French and Duch again and everybody fight on your own terrain if you want to fight.