All Quiet on the Western Front

Ieper Travel Blog

 › entry 5 of 20 › view all entries

I woke with the sun and hit the road after a quick shower as I had aways to go. I caught the tube to St. Pancras station (which I am sad to report does not have a platform 9 3/4. Unmagical bastiges.) I crossed through security and into the terminal where I waited somewhat impatiently for my train. I'm not a very good waiter. It probably has to do with having flights cancelled in front of my eyes. Until the plane/train/automobile actually departs, I'm never convinced it's actually going anywhere. The train did leave though, and on time. We quickly thundered across Southern England to the Channel where we scooted down into the tunnel and across into France. A quick left brought us across the border into Belgium (passing my actual destination) and dropped us off in Brussels.

I spent about an hour and a helf in the train station, double through quintuple checking my train tickets versus the schedules. I found the right track and managed to get on the right train.

The train ride itself was frightening and fun. This was a first for me... I was going to a country where i didn't speak the language and was completely unprepared for it. I'd commited a cardinal sin of travelling and had pigeon wholed an entire culture. Having always associated Belgium with French, I'd had no idea that half the country (specifcally the half I would be in) spoke Flemmish. Armed with vague approximations of 'Hello',' Please' amd 'thank you', as well as 14 different facial expressions that say 'I don't speak your language, please help me', I sat on the train listening to strange soiunding names wondering if I would recognize my destination when I heard it.

After the first 5-6 or six stops, I detected a pattern and was able to detrmine which bits of the announcement were 'are next, and 'is next'. Soon enough, I heard what I took to be 'Ieper' followed by 'is next', and hopped off. 

And I was right. I walked down cobbled streets between stone building with modern trimmings that spoke of an older age. Rising slowly in the distance I could see the tower of the Cloth Hall, a reconstructed medieval trading center in the middle of the town. In front of it, a modern fountain caused water to dance in the crisp automn air. Across the road from that fountain was my hotel. I checked in and made my way up to my room. The small room was cozy and clean, with everything in it looking new and shiny. The bed was a bit off putting and looked kind of lumpy, but when I gave it a test lie my concerns were put to rest.

I'm not sure what it was stuffed with, but it was like a giant firm pillow, and I had to hop right back out of it for fear of wasting a few hours sleeping.

Although it had been grey and rainy since I left London that morning, in the minutes since I had checked into the hotel, the sky had cleared and it was a lovely automn afternoon. I walked down the block to the Menin Gate. This large structiure was built in the 1920's to replace the gate that had originally stood on this location and which was destroyed during WWI. The modern gate is dedicated as a memorial to the 55000 Commonwealth soldiers who died defending the town and whose bodies were never found. The inner wallks and ceiling, as well as a pair of extended stairway alcoves are inscribed with the names of the missing.

After spending a fair ammount of time at the Gate itself, I cliembed up one side and found myself in a park that sis atop the ramparts that circle the center of the city. Ther was a foot path there that lead past a number of different installations.... some fairly modern statuary, a shrine to the Virgin Mary, the entrance to an ice cellar... and ended at the Ramparts Cemetery, a Commonwealth grave site overlooking the south bank of the Yser canal. Wth the sun starting to go down in the West, I thought that at least these men had found a lovely place to slumber.

I went back to the hotel, and not being in the mood to look for cheap eats, I settled into the restaurant which was pretty fancy. The prices were high but not unreasonable for the quality, Had a bit of a struggle trying to explain how I wanted my beef cooked, as the waiter didn't speak either of the languages I did, so I ent with him to the kitchen.

While I still couldn't speak with the chef, I took an inded finger and pressed it to my palm where the thumb bone meets the wrist, at which point he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. The international sign language of cooking to the rescue.

Ater dinner, I took a brief walk around the center of town before heading to bed. The next day was going to be a busy one and ws one of the key focuses of my trip.

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photo by: baliw-katok