We started the long journey home yesterday, we had a 9.13 train from Bath to London where we were staying overnight before flying out of the UK today.
The train was a comfortable express from Bath and only took 1.5 hours. Staying near Paddington the hotel had our room ready early so we could check in and dump our growing luggage. Sharon wanted to check out the Globe theatre shop so Emma and I went to the Transport museum to check out the hidden London exhibition (the ticket I had for the Down St station tour included entry to this).
The transport museum is really worth a visit if you come to London. Old trains, busses and lots of stuff for small kids as well.
After that Sharon and Emma looked at more shops and I headed over our London office to have a few drinks with the team there. We had dinner at the closest place we could find outside the hotel (BrewDog pub) it was pouring rain once more) but they did great burgers so it was a bit of a win.
On the way to the airport this morning we witnessed a family going through one of my top travel nightmares. They got on the Heathrow express just after us and I noticed one of the guys had his backpack open at the back. A few seconds later there was a massive panic as they realised they had either lost or had the wallet with their passports stolen. They jumped off the train in a panic with all their luggage. Luckily one of the Heathrow express staff noticed the commotion and went over to help them out.
Heathrow was pretty busy but we cleared security etc in less than an hour and was able to sit down and grab a coffee. My last one in Europe for this trip
Our hotel included breakfast so we ate there before heading out. Sharon wanted to visit the Jane Austin centre, this held little interest to me, so Emma and I walked down to the Herschel Astronomy museum. Fantastic little museum, Herschel discovered many interesting things about the solar system, however he is best known for discovering the planet Uranus, from which has generated endless jokes for generations. We owe him a great gratitude.
Whilst waiting for Sharon to finish in the Jane Austin house, I found a great coffee place only metres from the museum so Emma and I had a coffee and hot chocolate. Happy to have found a great coffee place so close.
We walked up to No.1 The Royal Crescent, which is now a museum run by the Bath Preservation Trust to showcase what wealthy life was like in an 18th century house. Learnt a few things I’d never heard off, like the “Turnspit” dog which was put in a wheel to Walk and turn roasting meats.
The “To Do” thing in Bath is a high tea at the Pump Room, which we had booked in for 3pm. After handing over a princely sum, something like the annual GDP of a post colonial third world country we were presented with a massive amount of delicious food (probably enough to feed a village of starvin’ Marvin’s).
We went for a wander after the Pump House to try and walk off some of that food. The Sydney gardens and area around the river are beautiful. Thankfully the rain had disappeared in the afternoon.
Was an early start today, got picked up by a taxi from our AirBnB apartment at 7.30, we got the 8am train from Bruges to Brussels South station, then the Eurostar at 11am to St Pancras in London, then a taxi to Paddington station and finally a Great Western train to Bath Spa station. Remarkably all these connections ran on time, even with the rain in Belgium and the UK.
I had a half decent coffee at Brussels station, found a place just doing coffee that wasn’t machine made. Finding something like that in a French speaking railway station isn’t an easy find!
We checked in for the Eurostar and found out our seats had been reallocated, not a big deal. Brussels is really a horrible station to get the Eurostar from, it’s crowded with hardly any waiting space. Luckily most people were EU citizens travelling to the UK, not UK citizens returning home so we got to use the UK / Commonwealth citizens lane which had no queues and were able to breeze through past everyone else.
I was wondering why we were reallocated seats and found out when boarding the train. It was an old clunker of of a Eurostar. No wifi, screens etc. Even the guard mentioned over the loudspeaker that it was a “Vintage” train, to howls of laughter from the other passengers. It was first announced in German, I picked up enough of the words to know what he had said. Seats were comfortable and importantly it ran on time which is a huge improvement over the Eurostar trains I took last year.
We grabbed a taxi between Kings Cross and Paddington, didn’t quite feel like moving the ton of luggage we have through the tube in the wet and a few lines were closed this weekend anyway.
Train to Bath was nice and smooth. The Hotel is the old Grand Hotel just across the road from from the station. Walked into one of the corridors backwards to hold the door open for Sharon and Emma and didn’t notice the step to the right of the door, tripped and fell over completely on my arse. This of course was hilarious for the others….
After checking in I went straight over to look at the old Roman Baths again and Sharon and Emma looked around the shops. I’m still amazed at how good a condition the Roman Baths are.
At a great dinner was had at “The Huntsman” pub a few doors up from the hotel.
On Thursday we did a WW1 Belgian battlefields tour with Visit Bruges. We were picked up at 8:30 by Nathan in a nice comfortable van. Normally there would be more people on the tour but he had a cancellation so we were the only ones one the tour, so it ended up being a very personalised tour.
We hit the Belgian motorways and zipped off into the old battlefields, with Nathan telling us a lot about the war, the local area and more about the participants in the war and his opinions on why it all happened. It’s quite amazing that everywhere you look there are remnants of the war. The Allied and German stakes used to hold barbed wire in the war are still used in wire fences, as are old narrow gauge railway tracks.
The are old concrete bunkers all over the place, and depending on which way the entrance to the bunker points you can work out if it’s Allied or German. Some bunkers have been incorporated into houses, there are concrete blocks from the war everywhere and they are used in all sorts of builsomgs
Over the last 30 years they have started to find a lot more things as basements and foundations of modern building go even deeper into the soil than they used to and they still find around 40-60 bodies every year.
All throughout the area they have metal boxes around trees with either red or blue colouring around them so you can follow the old front lines, blue being Allied and red German
Our first stop was a German war cemetery at Langemark. During the war the Germans put 25,000 school aged students on the front line most of them are buried here. The German government hid the slaughter from the news back in Germany and it was later used as a propaganda tool during WW2.
All commonwealth war graves are maintained and owned by the well funded commonwealth war graves commission. Almost all the commonwealth sites we visited were being cleaned or having some maintenance done on them. Apparently The German sites are owned by the local municipal governments and get some funding for maintenance from Germany.
Whilst we were there, there was a group of German school students on a school trip, and some soldiers from the German army doing some pressure cleaning. I had a chat with the sergeant on duty, he mentioned they were medical officers on a 2 week trip to clean the cemeteries. He was a little surprised an Australian would bother to visit a German cemetery and showed us some sections that had non Germans there and also pointed out on the wall one particular name that was more shiny than the others since many people visit and rub that one name, one of WW1s flying aces. Werner Voss, something I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t bothered to chat with him.
After this visit we visited The Brooding Soldier, A Canadian memorial to the 18,000 soldiers killed in the first German gas attack. This was the first chemical warfare attack in the world and historically had no direct impact on the outcome of the war, except to make it more horrible for everyone involved. The gas was unreliable and would often blow back onto those who let it off. The injuries and pain it inflicted was horrifying.
Nathan then stopped at a friends garage and showed us all the things he had collected over his lifetime since childhood, Grenades, Shells, guns, shoes etc. His grandfather had shown him as a child how to disable unexploded ordinance.
People are still Injured or killed from time to time, and he stopped by the side of the road at one point to show us an unexploded shell someone had left out for the army to collect and safely dispose of.
We visited Tyne Cot cemetery which is the largest commonwealth war graves cemetery in the world and has 1353 Australians buried there, the most Australian soldiers buried anywhere in one place. I was a little confused as first as I thought Villers-Bretonneux in France held that record but Villers commemorates all Australians who died on the Western Front in WW1. The cemetery has an amazing visitors centre with speakers all around that play back the names of all the soldiers killed. It’s a very moving experience
We drove over to Zonnebeke to visit the Passchendaele museum. Went through the Dugout and Trench experiences and smelt the different types of gases used in chemical warfare. Parts of the trenches are damp and smelly to give you a more realistic idea of how horrid they would have been. They also show the various construction techniques that differed between the Germans and Allies. There was also a great display on some of the different artillery equipment and shells. Also talked about how modern military equipment combined with 19th century tactics and the inability of the senior command to understand what was happening led the massacre that WW1 really was.
This area had been so utterly destroyed during the war it resembled a moon scape and there were doubts it would ever be agriculturally productive ever again. Farmers returning after the war couldn’t find their farms as all landmarks had been obliterated. Farmers still pull up tonnes of iron every year during harvest and it’s called the Iron harvest.
We drove into Ypres for some lunch and Nathan took us to a cafe where we had a meal of ham and salad, beer and of course Friets.
After lunch we went to the “In Flanders Fields” museum, another fantastic museum with so much to see. We had less than an hour here, but I could have spent all day. At least we loaded up on a few maps and books to look through later even though I’ll regret it probably when trying to get all this luggage home.
This museum is close to the Menin Gate with the names inscribed of all the Australian soldiers lost in Flanders, as well as replicas of the lions that were relocated to Australia after the war and are in our war memorial in Canberra.
Last stop- Hill 60. This is the site of the explosion detonated by the Australian Tunnelling Company. It was the largest explosion in the world at that time, was heard in Paris, and registered as an earthquake. There is a memorial here to the Australian Tunnelling Company.
When we were coming to Bruges, I started looking for waffle making classes, I thought I’d found one, and in the excitement booked and paid for it. It wasn’t till later I realised I’d booked one in Brussels not Bruges. The cities are 88km apart. Not a massive problem since trains run frequently and take an hour, but it would mean we lost a day really in Bruges.
I’d thought about cancelling it, but since rain was forecast in Bruges anyway, which would have made the cycle ride I wanted to do horrible, we thought we would keep it and just spend the afternoon in Brussels.
I should have pre-purchased the ticket from Bruges to Brussels as it worked out to be €60, almost as much as it cost us to get all the way here from Amsterdam.
We got of at Brussels Zuid (south) and let’s just say it’s not the nicest area in Brussels. Was kind of regretting the decision to leave Bruges at this point but eventually found the place holding the event. It looked great inside, but I had reservations at first as it had 16 people on the course, and it was a bit crowded around the table, but it worked out to be heaps of fun. Learnt all about the different types of waffles make in Belgium. Southern waffles are sweeter and more doughy, Brussels waffles are crisper and designed for coating with icing sugar. On the course we made the Brussels kind. Heaps of toppings available to add, one of the weirdest is Speculaas paste, which is basically ground up Dutch Speculaas biscuits in a past with the consistency of thick peanut butter. It’s delicious and I’m sure it’s deadly.
Later in the afternoon we found the Belgian comic strip centre /museum. Think Asterix and the Smurfs and you get the idea.
Sharon had “Mussels in Brussels” on her foodie goal list and we found a place for dinner where that one was achieved. On the way out we decided to get the train back to Bruges from Brussels Central (as it was closer to where we were) and we found the “nice” part of Brussels. It was warmer and dryer than it’s been and walking around this part of the town at night was just magical. Glad we found this as my opinion on Brussels had been pretty low at the start.