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Location - Western Europe; Capital - Brussels; Population - 11 million; Currency - Euro MORE BELGIUM

From Bruges, trains via Kortrijk head to Ypres, the scene of major battles and bloody fighting on the Western Front during World War I. I also visited another - older - battleground, Waterloo, a short distance south of Brussels - December 2015.


euroBelgium is part of the Euro Zone










belgium681The Grote Markt definitely has the wow factor on first sight - Ypres


belgium683Christmas stalls line the Lakenhalle building in the Grote Markt - Ypres


belgium685The Lakenhalle, or Cloth Hall, is an impressive reconstruction of the 14th century original - Ypres














belgium702Tagged on to the Lakenhalle (straight ahead) is the Stadhuis or Town Hall - Ypres















belgium703The entire city was destroyed in World War I but a great job has been made rebuilding the centre in its original style - Ypres


belgium679A daytime view of the Grote Markt under blue skies - Ypres


belgium707Climb the 70m Lakenhalle belfry for an Ypres panorama















belgium713Opposite the Lakenhalle is St Maarten en Niklaaskerk, a huge church behind the Grote Markt - Ypres















belgium715The Menin Gate stands behind the Grote Markt - Ypres


belgium648The Menin Gate honours the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died during World War I with no known grave - Ypres


belgium646The memorial was opened in 1928 - Ypres















belgium663Through the Menin Gate towards the Grote Markt - Ypres















belgium650The Menin Gate - Ypres


belgium652Soldiers' names inscribed on Menin Gate - Ypres


belgium657It holds the names of almost 55,000 fallen, with just under 35,000 at Tyne Cot Cemetery - Ypres














belgium667Every evening at 8 o'clock buglers perform the Last Post at the Menin Gate, honouring those who died - Ypres















belgium664The Lakenhalle belfry through the Menin Gate arch - Ypres


belgium730From the grounds of Pacific Eiland restaurant, situated on a tiny island five minutes walk south-east of the train station - Ypres


belgium624There's a huge number of WWI cemeteries surrounding Ypres, this one being the Ramparrts Cemetery on the old town walls near Rijselpoort (Lille Gate)













belgium627The Stedelijk Museum is housed in a 16th century almshouse - Ypres














belgium631The old town walls stand above the waters of Kasteelgracht - Ypres


belgium735I took an excellent half-day tour of the Ypres Salient to discover more of the World War I battle fields. First stop was the Advanced Dressing station at the John McCrae Memorial at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres Salient














belgium739Canadian army surgeon John McCrae was the author of In Flanders Fields, a famous poem synonymous with the Great War - John McCrae Memorial at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres Salient


















belgium742Also at the site is an Allied Forces' Advanced Dressing Station, a medical treatment area on the frontline - Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres Salient


belgium745Crosses and a poppy wreath lie inside one of the dressing station wards. Soldiers were treated in appalling conditions; some of the dead were buried at the cemetery shown earlier - Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres Salient


belgium750The Yorkshire Trench, Ypres Salient is a reconstructed British trench near the village of Boezinge














belgium754A flooded entrance to the deep dugout section of the Yorkshire Trench, Ypres Salient. This dugout became the headquarters of the Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Battle of Passchendaele














belgium756It's incredible how close the two frontlines were. The blue-ribbon remembrance tree indicates the Allied frontline, and just a few metres down the road the red-ribbon tree highlights the German frontline. Between the two was No Man's Land - Yorkshire Trench, Ypres Salient


belgium761The Welsh National Memorial, Ypres Salient was unveiled in 2014 as part of World War I's 100 year commemorations. It honours men and women from Wales and the Welsh regiments who served in the Great War


belgium765One of only four remaining German cemeteries in Flanders is at Langemark, Ypres Salient















belgium767The bodies of over 44,000 lie in mass graves at Langemark, Ypres Salient. Hitler visited the cemetery and nearby WWI battlefields in June 1940















belgium777A plaque on the St Julien Canadian Memorial, Ypres Salient reads: 'This column marks the battlefield where 18,000 Canadians on the British left withstood the first German gas attacks the 22-24 April 2015. 2,000 fell and lie buried nearby'


belgium778The memorial's poignant and evocative central sculpture is The Brooding Soldier - St Julien Canadian Memorial, Ypres Salient


belgium781Amazingly farmers still unearth WWI ammunition, bombs and weaponry, up to 200 tons/year. This bomb has been placed on the roadside for collection by the bomb disposal units. Don't touch! Passchendaele, Ypres Salient













belgium789This area is the site of the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917, aka the bloody and attritional Battle of Passchendaele. In just over three months 325,000 Allied and 260,000 Germans died for little land gain.
The pond is likely a flooded bomb crater, seen all across the Salient. Just visible on the horizon, left, is the new Passchendaele Church spire -
Passchendaele, Ypres Salient














belgium799The morning tour finished at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Ypres Salient, the world's largest war cemetery for Commonwealth forces


belgium790The Cross of Sacrifice at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Ypres Salient



belgium805Soldiers with no known grave are inscribed on the Menin Gate in Ypres, with a further (almost) 35,000 remembered at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Ypres Salient. New Zealand soldiers are commemorated at Tyne Cot's New Zealand Memorial Apse rather than Menin Gate













belgium796Just under 12,000 graves lie in Tyne Cot Cemetery, Ypres Salient, shown here with a section of the Memorial to the Missing behind















belgium802A small number of German casualties treated at Tyne Cot were buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Ypres Salient


belgium801A German bunker that formed part of the German defensive line on the Passchendaele ridge - Tyne Cot Cemetery, Ypres Salient


belgium810I also took a short afternoon tour, first heading to Hooge Crater, Ypres Salient. Like the Caterpillar Crater this water-filled crater was blown by Allied Forces, this one being in 1915 following tunnelling beneath German positions













belgium814Inside a German pillbox (military guard post) at Hooge Crater, Ypres Salient














belgium815A reconstructed trench at Hooge Crater, Ypres Salient. It sounds like the reconstruction is a bit shoddy, as corrugated roofs wouldn't have been used (they restrict visiblity and offer no protection from enemy fire)


belgium819Hill 60 is a memorial complex and the scene of several battles during World War I. In an area as flat as the Salient, tactically precious high ground was fought over many times - Hill 60, Ypres Salient


belgium821Roger, our top quality Salient Tours guide, stands next to Caterpillar Crater, Ypres Salient. Between 1915 and 1917 Allied forces dug and maintained tunnels beneath German positions on Hill 60 and the adjoining Caterpillar ridge, loading them with explosives.
On 7 June 1917, during the Battle of Messines, a massive 450,000kg of explosives were detonated, killing around 10,000 Germans and forming the crater pictured












belgium826The Christmas Truce Memorial, Ypres Salient commemorates unofficial ceasefires in Christmas 1914, where Allied and German soldiers entered No Man's Land, exchanged souvenirs and reportedly played a football match near this site














belgium830Pick out St Nicholas Church, Ypres Salient from the Christmas Truce Memorial


belgium833During WWI soldiers were treated in the crypt of St Nicholas Church, Ypres Salient. This included one Adolf Hitler, who is said to have returned years later as leader of Nazi Germany to thank the nurse who treated him. Regrets?


belgium835A pink sky at dusk as we drive back to Ypres - Ypres Salient















belgium859The early 20th century Stadhuis (town hall) of Poperinge, a town a few kms west of Ypres


belgium844In the Stadhuis are the death cells where some WWI deserters spent their last day - Poperinge


belgium849In the courtyard is the original shooting post - Poperinge














belgium870On a lighter note, as Poperinge was behind the frontline it was a centre of rest, relaxation and entertainment for British troops, much of which took place at Talbot House













belgium872The Every Man's Club was set up in 1915 by army chaplains Philip 'Tubby' Clayton and Neville Talbot - Poperinge



'All rank abandon ye who enter here' was an important Talbot House motto; rest and recreation were available to all, regardless of rank. On the right is one of several humorous signs that Tubby Clayton indulged in - Poperinge


belgium881Talbot House is now a museum; this is the chaplain's room - Poperinge














belgium877And surprisingly it's also a budget hotel. This is the General's Room where I stayed, used to accommodate officers on leave during the war - Poperinge














belgium900The Old Military Cemetery in Poperinge


belgium857St Bertinus' Church in the Grote Markt - Poperinge


belgium865Also in the Grote Markt is a statue of Eliane Cossey or 'Ginger'. She worked in La Poupée Café and was popular with the soldiers.
On a slightly different note, Poperinge is famous for its beer hops and has a hop museum, sadly closed when I visited













belgium862A brass band marches through the Grote Markt and straight to a pub - Poperinge














belgium615If you're taking the train between Bruges and Ypres/Poperinge you'll likely change in Kortrijk. This is the 12th century Once Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady)


belgium618Flanking the Lys River are the 14th & 15th century Broel Towers - Kortrijk


belgium619 Work was being done on setting up Christmas stalls in the Grote Markt - Kortrijk














belgium622Try unwrapping that! A Christmas present in the Grote Markt - Kortrijk














belgium903Waterloo, site of the Battle of Waterloo, is only 25mins by train from Brussels. Get off at Braine l'Alleud 2km away rather than Waterloo station


belgium909The Battle of Waterloo was fought on 18 June 1815, pitting the French led by Napoleon Bonaparte, against a coalition of the British led by the Duke of Wellington, Dutch, Prussians and Hanoverians to name a few - Waterloo


belgium918Besides the museum, the main site is the Butte du Lion, or Lion's Mound. William of Orange was injured fighting for the Allied troops in this area - Waterloo














belgium926Take in great views after a tiring climb up the steps - Waterloo














belgium920An information panel details the battle positions of Napoleon and the Allied troops. Spoiler alert! Maybe not, but it ended with Napoleon and the French being defeated, leading to his abdication and a life in exile on the South Atlantic island of St Helena - Waterloo


belgium922The circular building hosts the Battleground Panorama while the museum primarily lies underground in the submerged rectangular section to the left - Waterloo


belgium932Inside the museum is the skeleton of a soldier from the battle - Waterloo


















belgium937Tickets include transfer and entrance to Hougoumont, where the Battle of Waterloo began with a French attack on Wellington's army - Hougoumont, Waterloo













belgium945The Lion's Mound as seen from Hougoumont - Waterloo



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LINKS - the Belgian tourist office - visit Flanders - Eurostar train from London to Paris, Ypres and more


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