Our day started with a nutritious breakfast. The market is unfortunately only on Wednesdays so we had to go to an actual restaurant. The problem is that people here dont seem to e big on this meal so it is a lottle difficult finding a place serving more than just a coffee & a croissant. We walked to Market Square and looked at the breakfast deals advertised by each of the restaurants around it. We ended up at one place saying you got a hot drink, orange juice, bread & butter/croissant & jam and egg & bacon/sausage & beans. We each ordered our drink (cappuccino for Bean & hot milk for Kristin) with the bread and egg & bacon. They waiter mist have thought we were crazy because it turned out we got everything. The bread/croissant had been an “and” not an “or.” It turned out that our breakfast that we thought was a quite good deal was actually a really great deal!
Today we had one main goal, learn something about World War I. We had done our WWII day in France and it was time to inform ourselves about another important time in history.
The First World War is less well know than it’s successor. Unlike WWII this war had vague causes, no definite conclusion and was fought in mostly one location. We had looked into going on a guided tourof this area, like we did in Normandy, but the only tours we found were quite expensive, and we are just poor backpackers. We had read though that the In Flanders Fields Museum was exceptional so we decided that would be a good replacement. Before we begin with that though, here’s a little history lesson for those who don’t remember high school social studies or didn’t take classes on the war in University:
World War I began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914. This event triggered action in a continent full of tension. Secret pacts and alliances had already formed 2 sides, the Triple Entente (France, Britain, Russia) and the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary Empire, Italy) and a military arms race had helped build the tension. Following the assassination, Germany and Austria-Hungary invaded. Germany had devised their Schlieffen plan: quickly attack and defeat France through neutral Belgium and then turn towards Russia…spoiler alert, neutral worked out a lot better for Switzerland than Belgium.
The In Flanders Fields Museum is located in Iepers (or Ypres in French). We got off the train in Iepers, looked at when we could catch trains back to Bruges, walkd out of the station, and stopped. This was the first moment we realized we had no idea where we were going. Normally we are Google Maps biggest users, but our minds must have been affected by our current sickly state because we had not even thought to see where in town the museum was. Intelligently, Justine pointed out the church spire. That would be the center of town and a good place to start looking. So we set off, crossed a street…and happened upon a helpful town map. Hurray! In the end we had been going the right way but it was nice to have that confirmed.
For us Iepers was only 2 trains & 2 hours away. But in WWI, Ypres was the center of everything. Belgium was neutral but the Germans invaded anyways. The Belgians fought back valiantly but didn’t have the manpower. The entire town was destroyed and the majority of the battles on the Western Front occurred in this area. When French and British forces arrived the soldiers dug in and trench warfare began…two sides of trenches with No Man’s Land in the middle.
We learned about all of this as we made our way through the museum. This was another place that it was just hard to find the words for. There were displays telling you about the causes, battles and ending of the war. There were display cases showing uniforms and weapons. There were original documents including recruitment posters, letters and trench diagrams. It was all very informative & interesting. This alone would have been a good museum…but this is not a regular museum; it was so much more. It would have to be described more as an experience. There was a constant soundtrack of soldiers yelling, gunshots, planes soaring over and once a bomb being dropped. Each display was set up with so much to look at and so much detail that it drew you in. And they were no just the historic facts. There was detailed accounts of what it was actually like to be enlisted or in the trenches. There was an audiovisual account of the first invasion. And a sort-of dramatic recreation of walking through No Man’s Land. And then there was the personal touch. One area just talked of the Christmas truce and how soilders abandoned their weapons to meet between the trenches and exchange gifts & sing carols…enemies as friends for one special day. And each section featured at least 2 quotes from the people actually involved. Some were funny, some scary, but so many were just so sad. It was an incredible experience that left you so humbled and thankful. But as thankful as you are to the soldiers you cant forget that this wasnt really the end…
Eventually the Triple Entente was able to push the Germans back to Germany and the Treaty of Versailles was signed on November 11, 1918 to formally end the war. However, the conflict was no where near resolved. New borders were drawn in Europe and many new countries created. The Austria-Hungary Empire disappeared and Germany lost large amounts of land. The League of Nations was formed to little success and an unhappy and finacially broke Germany was forced to take responsibility for the war and pay for damages. The situation in Germany was bleak and it’s citizens unhappy. They saw themselves as the victims and there was a revival in nationalism. The stage was perfectly set for Htiler and the rise of Nazism. The country wanted to get the rest of Europe back for WWI and he was the one to get them there.
And to add to that, there was an incredible sign at the exit of the museum. It told of the number of armed conflicts the red cross has been involved in since the “war to end all wars.” The last update was done in 2008 and read 126…
On the way back to the train station we saw this tiny pansy plant growing up through the crack in between the sidewalk & a building. It wasn’t anywhere near a park or anywhere pansies were growing. It was just there fighting through the urban expanse to be seen. It seems like such a “why did you even notice that” thing but after that museum it was nice to see something so natural. It was just so innocent & hopeful. It made us feel so good we took a photo…
PS. This makes picture us think of something our friend Jocelyn would have on her blog/tumblr. You can find her here: http://cookingbymyownrules.wordpress.com/
When we got back into Bruges it was early evening. We had a waffle to tide us over until supper. We opted for the plain sugar waffles today and man were they good! We wanted another one when we finished but we resisted temptation.
After waffle time we just walked. We know we do that a lot here but it’s such a nice place to just leisurely wander through. We looked at the menus of every restaurant we passed, trying to pick out the perfect place for supper. In the end we picked a spot right on the center square. This doesn’t sound like it would be the place with the best deal, but we did our research! We ended up with a little 3-course meal (like in Paris). In the end we were very happy with the quantity & quality of the food for the money! But to the food…First Course: Justine had a nice homey vegetable soup. Kristin had cheese croquettes, mainly because she was curious what it was. If you don’t know (and can’t tell from the picture) it was basically fried cheese…yum!
Second Course: Mussels! This is a Belgium specialty so we had to get it while we were here! The were au natural…meaning they were boiled with some onions & spices and that’s it. Then they were served with some French fries (another Belgian specialty).
They were sooooooooo delicious! We gobbled them right up…look at the carnage left over:
Third Course: We were given some tasty ice cream with whipped cream and a little waffle cone wafer.
By the time we left dinner it was starting to get dark…our first real evening in Belgium! We’ve been sick…that’s our excuse & we’re sticking to it, but we still felt the urge to take a photo to prove we had actually stayed out late-ish one night.
Now time to pack for travel tomorrow!
Love, Luck & Life in the Trenches,
PS. Happy Anniversary Kummer Parents!