So we are now home in Oxford after spending 11 days on the road, in England, France, Belgium, Greece and back. I love the holidays!
We wanted to take our dog back home to Athens, so driving to Brussels (including crossing the Channel and spending a couple of nights in Belgium) was the most economical way to go about it. I always love this travelling option - 3rd time we've done it so far - there is something about small Flemish towns that I find particularly enticing.
This time we discovered Ypres, where we stopped to have a look at the First World War monuments like the Menin Gate and cemetaries - truly haunting. Perhaps more than I was prepared to absorb in such a short visit. In Ypres the Germans used poison gas for the first time, and the cost of lives was tremendous - it is estimated that in the surrounding fields close to one million soldiers from all sides lost their lives. The numbers are mindbogling and should always remain deeply engraved in collective memory.
Our next stop
Courtrai is a modern town close by, which seems to offer its inhabitants an incomparable quality of life. There was a fair that had spread all over the town when we arrived so we spent our evening going around and acting like children, tasting mussels and Belgian beer.
I was lucky to be able to run along the river Leie for about an hour and a half the morning after, and I couldn't help making the comparison with similar-sized (ie smallish) Greek towns, which seems overburdened by cement and half-finished newly-builts of dubious taste. Running on the cycle path, where dozens of cyclists and a few runners were bravely venturing out despite the premature heatwave, I had a sense of peace and a desire to move further along and discover what else is there. But there was a flight to catch so I had to turn around and join Colin and Lisa at the hotel, even though I managed to get lost on the way and run half an hour more than I originally planned!
Although Ypres was virtually rebuilt after the First World War with funds from Germany's war reparations (this is one of the periods of world history that I am now eager to explore more), and Courtrai's medieval architecture remains intact, they both looked rather new and remarkably well preserved to me. From the magnificent Cloth Hall in Ypres to the Broel Towers in Courtrai, this was one more short trip where I enjoyed immensely discovering sights in Belgium!
Needless to say, we will be back!