Driving through Flanders
Our first stop was at the Buttes New British Cemetery in Zonnebeke. Driving in the countryside was very beautiful. Rolling hills, winding one lane roads and tall lush grass. It was a somber day, exploring what was once a battlefield. We had a few key places we wanted to visit, namely Passchendaele and the graves of Flanders Fields. I also knew Menin Gate was in this area and had it in the back of my mind to stop there too.
We went to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele where we got maps of the area and toured through their galleries. They had multiple exhibits and the most touching for me was reading some of the wartime letters that were donated. It’s difficult to image the heartache of that time.
We toured through bunkers and trenches and then left there to continue our journey. As we were driving through the towns, Devon slammed on the brakes because we noticed the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regiment memorial so we pulled over. In the middle of a farmers field there was a maintained narrow stretch of grass that led out to the memorial.
Tyne Cot Cemetery
Next we visited the gravesite of Tyne Cot where row upon row of unnamed headstones sat. The drive through this part of Belgium was picturesque with its beautiful scenery but every so often you stumble upon a sobering reminder of what these fields once were.
Unsure of what to do next, we headed into Ypres for some dinner. What a beautiful city! The architecture was breathtaking. We stopped at a cute diner style restaurant and got some food before the Menin Gate ceremony was to take place at 7:00pm.
After dinner, we walked up to the Gate that acts as the entrance into the town and people were already swarming despite the fact that this ceremony takes place every day. We secured our spot near the front and waited while the crowds poured in. When the ceremony started the roads were closed off and a hush fell over the group. Several groups of people lined up to place wreaths at the memorial. It was incredible to be there for it.
Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium
Afterwards we realized we were really close to the border between Belgium and France. Devon wanted to see how easy it would be to drive across so we headed towards Lille. At this point, my earlier hesitations were gone and I was just going along for the ride. There was nothing more than a small sign to announce we were back in France. We make a bigger deal in Canada about provincial borders than they do about international borders. We drove around Lille which is a really beautiful city and then headed back for home base. Tired, we dropped off the car and cabbed back to our Airbnb.