• Welcome to my world

    Welcome to my world

A 35 kilometer bike tour through Flanders Fields was appealing to me for 3 reasons: I am a history geek, I love a physical challenge, and I love traveling to obscure destinations. A ride around Flanders Fields offers all three, plus chocolate and pommes frites to reward my efforts. How could anything go wrong?

FLANDERS FIELDS

We decided to visit Ypres as a day trip from Brussels. The Belgian rail system is convenient and affordable, so we opted for a scenic train ride instead of renting a car. As soon as we stepped onto the train, we realized our plan to kick back and enjoy the scenery wasn’t going to happen. None of the guidebooks had warned us that Belgian trains haven’t been updated since the 1970′s, and as soon as we sat down we knew it was going to be a long and uncomfortable ride. Upholstered in hideous, sticky pleather (reminiscent of the wood paneling in a 1970′s station wagon), the seats felt like church pews that had been carved from steel rods. Worse still, they face the seat across from them, so we spent most of the time pretending not to notice the teenagers across from us, sharing ipod ear buds and singing out of tune.

After 3 long hours, we arrived in Ypres. We had booked rental bikes prior to our arrival, now all we had to do was find the Hotel Ambrosia (they offer bike rental for 12 euros a day), and we’d be on our way. The town of Ypres is hardly more than a village. The streets are lined with charming two story townhouses that look like they were built as a backdrop for a WWII film. Eager to stretch our legs, we took our time and wandered the streets, feeling that we had time traveled into pre-war Belgium.

The fiercest fighting of the First World War occurred in the Ypres Salient, a hilly area just north of Ypres. Trench warfare, machine guns, and poison gas all but decimated the town and the hilly areas that surround it. Wooded areas and farmland were turned into muddy swampland, and craters from artillery fire became large, deep puddles (now used as watering holes for grazing cattle). Nearly a million soldiers were killed in the Ypres Salient during a war of attrition that lasted for three and a half years.

Despite Winston Churchill’s wish to keep the town in ruins as a reminder of the travesty that occurred there, the locals rebuilt everything to look exactly as it did before the war. The main market square has an old world ambiance, with cobblestone streets and quaint shops lining the streets. The old cloth hall, now the In Flanders Fields Museum, marks the center of town.

After stopping for lunch (and a chocolate snack for the ride), we stopped into the museum gift store to purchase a trail map. It was the first of several mistakes we made that day. The map showed the bike trails as yellow squiggles, with no road names or landmarks to demonstrate exactly where they were, only a random assortment of numbers. The numbers mark battlefields and cemeteries, which match descriptions in an accompanying pamphlet. The map also offered convoluted directions, written in a strange first person narrative, We cycle from Bellewaerde Ridge to Meenseweg. From Meenseweg, you can take a left and cycle to ‘t Hoe to visit a well-tended war museum with a tavern and lovely British cemetery. 

Thanks to our flawed map and my hesitant riding style (it was my first time on a bike in over 10 years), we took a few wrong turns and wasted nearly an hour trying to find our way out of Ypres. Finally, we began to see signs of the Western Front, now pocked with craters and gravestones.

Reminders of the war are around every corner in Ypres. Poppies were the first flower to grow in the fields after the devastation of the war, and now they are a symbol of the region, symbolizing hope and rebirth. We were in Belgium a week before Armistice Day, and there were fresh poppies scattered along all of the memorials, cemeteries, and trenches.

The first battlefield we encountered was the John McCrae site, named after the famous Canadian poet and medic. Belgium is so flat that any small increase in elevation was considered a major tactical advantage.  The allies used the little hill as an artillery position, and later on in the war as a second line behind the front. It is a surreal experience to stand on the embankment, with the canal on one side and farmland on the other, and imagine what this area looked like during the war.

In spite of our map, we managed to find the Yorkshire Trenches hidden in the center of what is now an industrial park (amateur archaeologists found the park in 1992). The original Yorkshire Trench was dug in 1915, and concrete walkways mark all of the underground tunnels and shelters (most of which are accessible to tourists). Seeing the trenches in person brings the war back to life, and the devastation is almost palpable. It wasn’t long before we were ready to move on.

Most of the sites in the area are former battlefields and cemeteries, tucked away into what are now potato fields and dairy farms. Every monument told a unique tale of bravery and horror, and we kept stopping to stare at the scenery. It is nearly impossible to imagine such a bucolic setting as a backdrop for some of the deadliest and cruelest battles Europe has ever seen.

We rode around Ypres and the surrounding areas for nearly 4 hours and finally gave in as the sun started to set. We covered far less ground than we’d planned (only 15 of the planned 35 kilometers) mostly because we spent a lot of the time completely lost, but we also lingered much longer than we expected to at many of  the sites. Almost as soon as we had decided to turn back to Ypres, we were already upon the town itself.  This was another reminder of just how close all of these battles were to the tiny town.  Just under a million men had died over this stretch of little more than a few kilometers.  The emotional, and, let’s face it, physical toll (cobblestones are not kind) of the ride was surprising.

We stopped for a pint on the way back to the train station, enjoying the cozy atmosphere of a small town pub, and watched as the town faded into darkness. We sat there for a long time, feeling a long way from anywhere, and very close to history.

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I was really disappointed with my experiences in Prague (with the exception of the Prague Ballet, which was, if you’ll excuse my French, abso-fucking-lutely amazing). I have only admitted travel defeat once before on this blog, and I hate to do it again. I love traveling, and I’ve fallen in love with nearly every place I’ve been lucky enough to visit, but Prague left me cold. I wish I could have visited the city 10 or 15 years ago, before the budget airlines brought in the tacky stag and hen-dos from Britain, followed by the “let’s go to Prague because it’s cheaper than the rest of Europe” American tourists.

Czech, Prague The Prague we visited was not only crowded with (more annoying than usual) tourists, it was designed to cater to them in a way that makes the city feel bland, and, quite frankly, a little seedy. We were so over it by the third day that we slept in late, then hung out in our hotel room eating donuts and watching old episodes of Parks and Recreation for a few hours before we managed to talk each other into giving the city just one more try. That was a first in our 2 years of traveling around Europe.

I promise you, it wasn’t for lack of effort. We searched high and low for the least touristy local haunts, and we wandered for hours in the bitter cold trying desperately to find the Prague we had imagined. In the end, it wasn’t all bad. We did find a few things we liked.

The Prague Toy Museum

We initially decided to go to the museum because it was indoors (January in Prague is unbearably cold), and because we suspected it was a sight that would be overlooked by the hordes of tourists around Prague Castle. I loved all the old Barbies in their old-fashioned, yet incredibly stylish outfits. The whole museum took less than half and hour, and for an entry fee of roughly $3 a person, the price was right.

Czech Beer Halls

We stopped in at a traditional beer hall for a few nightcaps one evening and discovered a taste of traditional (and very fun) Czech culture. Live music, singing, smoking, and lots of beer blend together in a jovial atmosphere. Waiters circle the restaurant carrying giant trays of beer (they only serve one kind), and a fresh pint appears in front of you as soon as you empty your glass. The ‘tab’ is nothing more than a receipt with tally marks on it. Just be careful, because those beers will keep appearing until you make it very clear that you don’t want another…

The Lennon Wall

The Lennon Wall is a piece of Czech history that was well worth a wander in the cold. The wall has been covered in John Lennon inspired graffiti and political messages since the 1980′s (which drove the communist regime absolutely nuts). Authorities have never managed to keep the wall clean for more than a few hours, as the artists always come back to redecorate.

Weird Graffiti

I loved the graffiti in Prague. There was just something about it that made me forget the touristy vibe of the city and appreciate that there’s always more below the surface, even if we weren’t able to find it on this trip.

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All we sincerely hope to be able to provide interested information to travelers who are looking for tourist attractions in Bangkok as a travel guide – travel tips for visiting…

Top Travel in Bangkok is a website guiding trips and travelling routes of all the popular sightseeing attractions, including good quality hotel with low prices that have been specially selected by local people and tourists.

What to do Bangkok Thailand?

What to do Bangkok Thailand?

Suggestions

When you visit a Buddhist temple, you should get dressed simply and politely. Please do not reveal your shoulders and legs to honor the place. Some temples may not allow you to enter inside if you get dressed impolitely.

There are the shows of firecrackers, lion parades, live musics, many street lamps and a scent of incense through the air. Moreover, there are many restaurants on the roadsides with their super delicious food in Thai-Chinese tastes and appearances. Most people celebrate the festival by wearing in red simultaneously.

Wisut Kasat Intersection

Those who want to play splashing water together with making a merit, don’t miss here at Wisut Kasat Intersection. Because in every year, there will be Chak Phra Festival as well as setting birds and fish free from Wisut Kasat Intersection to Santi Prakarn Garden on the riverside. In other word, you will be able to experience the atmosphere of Songkran Festival and bring merit back as well.

Khaosan Road

On April 12 – 16, there will have Songkran Festival been organized here in every year. Sometimes, the amusement is quite increasing with more excitement until the travelers from everywhere had passed their experiences to others spread widely. Whoever had heard about Songkran Fesival will really want to play splashing water at Khaosarn Road. Thus, here is always being public favor and never lose popularity.As the result, it is not uncommon at all if Khaosarn Road will be dazzled with Thai and foreign travelers with all ages since children, teenagers, adults until old people actually.Moreover, there are so many places to play Songkran in Bangkok

Bangkok is the capital of Thailand. There are people living abundantly but having adequate tourist attractions and consumer goods. Bangkok is a pleasant city with various hotels which can meet your requirement. No matter who you are, a businessman who is requiring some 5 star luxurious hotel or a student who is seeking for some cheap guesthouse with an excellent standard, you can choose your best one from those various choices.
For example: the 3-star hotel with quality and comfort. All hotels in Bangkok nearby Victory Monument BTS station have fair room rates and full-service. You can rent an apartment weekly, monthly and yearly as needed.

If you are a businessman, there are various hotels in Bangkok that we would like to recommend, namely, Peninsula Bangkok Hotel. This hotel has been continuously ranked among the best hotels in the world, locates on the banks of Chao Phraya River to the central city center and has excellent views of the river and skyline while sunset.Bangkok have the average temperature in low to medium level at 30 degrees Celsius throughout year. There will have heavy rain in September and October. However, it occurs with all parts of Thailand. Although it rains heavily but we can still see sunlight. If travelers would like to see the sunlight, Bangkok, a city of blue sky, will give you the nice experience throughout year, except in the mentioned two month period. There are many skyscrapers, colorful street markets, many located shopping malls and vigorous nightspots.

Chinese New Year Festival 

a celebration of Thai-Chinese people in the area of Chinatown, which is the largest Chinatown in the world around the end of January or the beginning of February according to the first full moon period. Bangkok’s Chinatown or Yaowarat has been held the festival for about 2-4 days (the next Chinese New Year Festival in next year is on January 31, 2014).

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I love European Christmas markets. For me, sitting around in the cold drinking mulled wine and gorging on comfort foods with your loved ones is the perfect way to embrace the darkest, coldest days of winter. We were lucky enough to stay at a hotel right next to the main market in Budapest, and we made a point to stop by and enjoy a treat every day that we were in town.

BUDAPEST CHRISTMAS MARKET

BUDAPEST CHRISTMAS MARKET

We made sure to enjoy a daily mug or two of mulled wine. It is the best way to stay warm, after all.

Then we’d browse the Christmas tchotchkes…and enjoy a gingerbread appetizer. The Budapest market had an array of delicious traditional Hungarian foods to choose from. Just looking at these stews made me feel warmer.Kevin drooled a bit over the spicy Hungarian sausages.

By far our favorite part of the market was the discovery of kurtosckalacs, or Hungarian stove cake. It’s made from a thin piece puff pasty twisted around a wooden spit. The spit is then rolled over a hard surface to flatten out the dough, and dipped in sugar. Then it’s roasted over an open flame, caramelizing the sugar and toasting the bread.

Once it’s all ready to go, customers choose a “topping” of cocoa, walnuts, vanilla, cinnamon or coconut (we went with cinnamon). The bread is then wrapped up in cellophane, and handed over to drooling patrons like ourselves. The way the dough is wrapped around the spit makes it easy to tear off bite sized pieces for easy sharing. We agreed that chimney cake might be the best dessert either of us have ever had.

Happy Holidays, everyone. I’m off for some more mulled wine…

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