A Historical Tour de #Belgium: #Bruges, #OstendAtlanticWalls and #Ypres

A country famous for beer, chocolates & Belgium fries

A country famous for beer, chocolates, cheese & Belgium fries

Following John’s post Remembering Great Granddad George, I am filling in some gaps and sharing a few more pictures of our ‘expedition’ to our European cousins.

Yes, I have wanted to visit Bruges for quite sometime, long before I saw the Colin Farrell film In Bruges. For many Chinese tourists, if they only have one chance of a Grand Tour of Europe, the itinerary will normally cover must-visit French cities like Paris, or Italy’s gems of Rome, Florence and Venice, followed by German tourist attractions and now many Eastern European countries. Some routes will probably include Brussels, the Belgium capital and nerve centre of the EU.

Bruges, a relatively small but fabulously preserved quaint city, of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It reportedly had the first stock exchange in the world in the beginning of the 14th century. Like many cities in the world, it has been through expansions, declines and revivals.

Sightseeing through its many canals in the city

Sightseeing through its many canals in the city

Helpful Hans showing us a map of Bruges

Helpful Hans showing us a map of Bruges

My first impressions of Bruges was good, despite the rain and strong winds which greeted us. The city reminded me of Amsterdam in Holland, and Venice, due to its many canals and close proximity to the sea, as well as fabulous architecture. The colours were vibrant even on a foul day for photos.

As John noted, Bruges thrives on tourism, and everything is geared to appeal to tourists. The couple who ran the hotel we stayed in were very helpful. Hans showed us the map of the city and where we should go and what we should do. As advised, we took a boat trip, and enjoyed seeing the world pass us by in a cool breeze, and took in sights that could only be appreciated on the water.

Great fun cycling on a tandem

Great fun cycling on a tandem

Instead of working the horses who are fed and trained to take tourists around the city, with their rhyming click clack on the cobbled streets, we hired a tandem and worked our legs, passing holy churches, cathedrals, cafes, chocolate shops, with sweet smells permeating the air, tempting us to stop. We eventually did, and enjoyed a three course lunch menu by the canal, with Flemish stew and Belgium fries – I had no idea why they are now called French fries, but I guess back then, the borders of many European countries were fuzzy, and Bruges itself was part of France and then the Netherlands. It only became an independent country in the 19th century.

From Bruges, we headed to Ostend where we visited the “Western Wall” open-air museum, a powerful reminder of history with modern fortification. During WWI and WWII the Germans constructed underground trenches, bunkers and batteries, observation points and gun sites, many of which are well preserved along the Atlantic coast. Until I saw it, I did not realise that it was a defence wall stretched all the way from Norway to the French-Spanish border of 5,300 kilometers. The audio guide was informative, added further insight into the background of construction and maintenance. It was a grey day and I could almost hear the roar of the ocean below, picturing what it would have been like, had the Allies chosen to attack in that part of the Wall instead of Normandy.

Ostend Atlantic Walls Open-air Museum

Ostend Atlantic Walls Open-air Museum

Our last stop was Ypres, another ancient town soaked in history and blood, where two battles of Ypres took place. It has a magnificent Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing which commemorates millions of the British Commonwealth soldiers who died in WWI. We saw a couple of military cemeteries en-route, and checking out some of the names proved to be a truly touching moment, especially when John found one missing soldier, with his name carved: J.Kirk.

Yrpes Centre and Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing

Yrpes Centre and Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing

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Remembering Great Granddad George – Four Co-incidences

Chocques Military Cemetery, France

Chocques Military Cemetery, France

by John Kirk

My great-grandfather, George Gittos, died on April 16th 1918 during the Battle of Paschendaele near Ypres in Belgium. I once went out with a girl, Marie-Claude from Lille which is less than an hour from Ypres. On the 9th July this year the Tour de France stage finished in Lille. Brugge, which Junying has always wanted to visit is just an hour from Lille.

Our plan in visiting Northern France and Belgium was to tie together these co-incidences into a mini-break of five days. Despite a six hour delay on the Eurotunnel we managed to reach Lille just after midnight and got some sleep. The next day was a bit rainy, and after touring the old city we made it out to the edge of town to see the end of that day’s Stage 4 of the 2014 Tour de France – the World’s most famous cycling race.

Tour De France, Lille 2014

Tour De France, Lille 2014

The commercialism of the tour is as breathtaking as the physical prowess of the cyclists who stormed to the finish at more than 40 mph. Next stop was a posh dinner with Marie-Claude and Junying which we managed in a straightforward way, catching up on the missing 35 years since MC and I had said goodbye on the doomed “Herald of Free Enterprise” at Calais– you might recall the sinking of this car ferry in 1987.

The following morning we set off through the rain to the medium sized French town of Bethune and what we thought would be the war cemetery of George Gittos, my great-grandfather. After a quick search of the cemetery, I was on the phone to my brother Mike in the UK for details of the real location of his grave which was three miles to the East in a little place called Chocques.

Paying respect to Granddad

Paying respect to Granddad

Finally we located George on the outskirts by the Rue des Martyrs with about another 400 war dead. The cemetery was well-kept and in a nice spot by a cornfield. We updated Facebook with all the photos and location so others of our extensive clan could visit in the future.

My Grandmother had visited before she died, in her eighties and in a wheelchair. The wheelchair got stuck in the mud, just as the soldiers had done all those years ago. She never really knew her Father, as he left home when she was just two years old. It took her 86 years to track him down. We paid our respects and set off for Brugge.

Brugge is a lovely place, but just as commercial in its own way as the Tour de France. Without tourism it would not exist, but with it the place is beautifully preserved. We hired a tandem and rode over its cobbled streets, the first time since we had ridden together in the walled city of Lucca in Italy. This ride seemed to combine all of the reasons we had gone on the trip – memories, romance, cycling, history and above all an escape from the normal daily routines of life.

Fabulous French Food

Fabulous French Food

Catching up after 35 years

Catching up after 35 years

Junying’s Note: I will be sharing more pictures and snippets of our short tour of France and Belgium next week. Hope to see you again soon!

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First Impressions: a Guest Blog by @edenbaylee

Author Profile

Author Profile

eden baylee

Junying has graciously given me space to guest blog about my latest book, Stranger at Sunset. It’s my first mystery novel and a departure from a genre I’ve become known for—literary erotica.

I’m thrilled to be here because Junying and I have been friends for some time now. We have many things in common—a love of food, travel, and of course—books, because we are both writers. Any one of these subjects would have made an ideal blog topic, but then …

I remembered something about Junying, which I had forgotten. And I thought it might be even more fascinating for her readers to learn my first impression of her.

We met online at the end of 2011, and I remember Junying intimidated me at first.

It had nothing to do with her, of course, as most first impressions are made up of our own biases and insecurities. It’s even more difficult in the virtual world because we lack the full use of our senses when we “meet” someone. We don’t really see or hear them except through photos and words on a page. Based on very little, we make judgments of people that help us decide if we want to continue or not continue a relationship.

Stranger at Sunset? Junying during one of her travels

Stranger at Sunset? Junying during one of her travels

By the time I met Junying, she had already written two books and was penning her third in her Journey to the West trilogy. She was an accomplished chef, world traveler, multi-lingual, a skilled photographer, and a scholar. In other words—a very talented, successful woman.

It made me wonder if I would measure up to be her friend. I laugh now because my first impression of Junying changed once we spoke online via emails. I immediately felt a kinship with her and knew we would become fast friends.

First impressions tie into my book because the story is built on the concept of people meeting each other, some for the very first time.

I explore how initial impressions of people can be inaccurate by creating an uncertain atmosphere at a beautiful Jamaican resort. There is tension amongst the small group of vacationers. They are there for a holiday and to enjoy themselves, but tolerating one another is not always easy. Some people are quick to judge others without knowing them, some are more accepting. It’s a fine balance in a group of strangers.

There is conflict, inhibitions, suspicion … and then there is murder.


22570211Stranger at Sunset
is about a cast of characters thrown together in paradise. Their actions and inactions ultimately define who they are. And sometimes, it’s not always what we expect.

I end with a question for readers: Have you ever judged someone based on a first impression and discover you were completely wrong? I know I have. Please feel free to comment and share your stories. I’d love to hear them.

* * *

Thanks Junying for giving me this opportunity to share with your readers. I really enjoyed offering a small piece of the puzzle to my book.

Author Bio

3e652cca138c0ad8956e2a.L._V400236556_SX200_Eden Baylee left a twenty-year banking career to become a full-time writer. She incorporates many of her favorite things into her writing such as: travel; humor; music; poetry; art; and much more.

Stranger at Sunset is her first mystery novel, on the heels of several books of erotic anthologies and short stories. She writes in multiple genres.

An introvert by nature and an extrovert by design, Eden is most comfortable at home with her laptop surrounded by books. She is an online Scrabble junkie and a social media enthusiast, but she really needs to get out more often!

To stay apprised of Eden’s book-related news, please add your name to her mailing list.

Author Links:  WebsiteAmazon Author Page USAmazon UKtwitter @edenbayleeFacebookGoodreadsYouTubePinterest, and LinkedIn

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Tracing the Footsteps of My Literary Hero #ThomasHardy Along The Rolling Dorset Hills

Famous Hardy Novel

Famous Hardy Novel

Beeny Cliff

March 1870 – March 1913

O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea, 

And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free –

The woman whom I loved so, and who loyally loved me.
 
 
The pale mews plained below us, and the waves seemed far away

In a nether sky, engrossed in saying their ceaseless babbling say,

As we laughed light-heartedly aloft on that clear-sunned March day.
 
A little cloud then cloaked us, and there flew an irised rain,

And the Atlantic dyed its levels with a dull misfeatured stain, 

And then the sun burst out again, and purples prinked the main.
 
- Still in all its chasmal beauty bulks old Beeny to the sky, 

And shall she and I not go there once again now March is nigh,

And the sweet things said in that March say anew there by and by?
 
What if still in chasmal beauty looms that wild weird western shore,

The woman now is – elsewhere – whom the ambling pony bore,

And nor knows nor cares for Beeny, and will laugh there nevermore.
 

Can you picture the scenes painted above by Hardy’s masterful pen?

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Lulworth Cove

Lulworth Cove

As I stood high on the cliff at Lulworth Cove just over a week ago, overlooking the serene English Channel as far as my eyes could reach, I felt Hardy’s presence, not just because our hotel had one of his poems painted on its walls, but also the fact that after a quarter of a century living in the UK, I was at last paying homage to one of my literary heroes, the great English novelist, poet and naturalist, Thomas Hardy. I was finally in Hardy Country where he spent the best part of his life, writing great works, including Far from the Madding Crowd (1874),The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895).

Hardy's Poem on the wall

Hardy’s Poem on the wall

The poem I cited in the beginning of this blog was written in memory of his first wife Emma Gifford, following his return to Cornwall in March 1913, after her death the previous November. It is, in my view, a very Hardysque representation: The timeless beauty of Nature, the division between land and sea, our love and loss, irretrievable and gone forever. It is a theme that dominated many of his novels and poems – what is in the past cannot be captured and one can not fight his/her fate.

Many years ago in China, I read a few abridged version of his novels. In fact, I spent the last few months of my University days attempting a critical analysis of Jude the Obscure. I do not remember what I wrote in my thesis (an indication of how long ago it has been, rather than a failing memory ;). Sadly, following my move to the UK, I no longer have that piece of writing which earned me my first degree.

Outside the cottage where he was born & raised

Outside the cottage where he was born

In June 2014, as I traced Hardy’s footsteps along the narrow lane leading to his birth place, I contemplated and said to John: “I wish I could see what I wrote back then. It must have been pretty immature and not really high level academic criticism.”

What I do remember is how he explored some of the most memorable, even though tragic characters, like Tess and Jude. Many of Hardy’s protagonists fought against the social circumstances they were born with or had imposed upon them, but ultimately their fate wore them down.

Hardy’s “Novels of Character and Environment”, and most of his other novels, poems and short stories, were set around the historic market town of Dorchester (‘Casterbridge’ in his fiction), near his boyhood home at Higher Bockhampton. We drove to his birth place last Monday but as it turned out, it was only open between Wednesday and Sunday. Some restoration work was being done to the thatched roof and chimney, and we were only able to take a peek at the National Trust property from behind the fence and bushes.

The thatched cottage is being restored

The thatched cottage is being restored

Perhaps it was fate? or just a co-incidence?

IMG_7554We made up for this disappointment by visiting  Dorset County Museum which has a room devoted to celebrating the County’s most famous son, his life and his works. From the landscape that has inspired him, the part-real, part imaginary Wessex, I gained further insight into the man and his achievements. As you can see from the pictures, Hardy’s actual study was transposed to a quiet corner. I happily posed with one of Tess’s smock costumes too.

For John and myself, both English literature graduates, one of the most memorable, artistic moments from Hardy’s works has always been the erotic scene with Natasha Kinski eating strawberries in Roman Polanski’s film of Tess of the d’Urbervilles .

If you happen to be a Hardy fan, what’s yours?

Hardy's Study

Hardy’s Study

Idyllic Dorset in Hardy Country

Literary inspiration: Idyllic Dorset in Hardy Country

 

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