We packed our days in Europe with all the museums, memorials, and other special stops we could! It was not a leisurely, get-up-at-1o-am type of vacation (made evident by our itinerary) – but you know what? That’s a good thing! After all, we only had a limited amount of time in Europe and I think we would have regretted sleeping in and not trying to squeeze everything we could out of the trip!
After our afternoon in Ypres, Belgium, we stopped at an outdoor museum area at the back of a Belgian hotel. That’s the crazy thing about some of the World War I sites in Europe – they aren’t all huge, well-labeled buildings, like you may expect a museum to be! Sometimes, it’s that a farmer had returned to his property after the war, saw all of the wartime artifacts laying there, decided not to farm it, fenced it off, and turned it into a little museum!
Signe and I ran around there and discovered that there were sheep living and grazing on the property! It was super fun to herd them around. 🙂
We then found our Airbnb not too far away, and crashed there for the night.
The next morning, we went to a local French grocery store (our Airbnb was near the Belgium border but still in France) and stocked up on apples, cheese, meat, and baguettes. (Do you see a theme here with our lunch menus?!)
We started out at a little museum at the back of a cafe down a quiet road, called Hill 62, which had muddy British trenches in the back.
Next, we drove to the Passchendaele 1917 Museum which was really well done! We toured a model of an old dugout-type British underground bunker, and then some remade German trenches.
After that, we stopped at the Tyne Cot Cemetery. This was a powerful, powerful place to visit. Overwhelmingly somber even though it was a gorgeous sunny, breezy day. We saw so many names of men who had died in their 20s in WWI. This was a commonwealth cemetery with soldiers from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, among others.
Half of the soldiers buried there are unknown. It was so hard to walk up and down the rows and see so many stones that said only “a British soldier of the Great War, known unto God.”
The next cemetery we visited was a German soldier cemetery called Langemark. 44,300 Germans are buried there. This cemetery had an entirely different feel from the other one. This cemetery is sometimes called the “Student Cemetery” – or, you may have heard of it as “The Massacre of the Innocents.” (This is because they ran out of men to send into battle and began to send in those in reserve units, many who were college students, who hadn’t yet been trained.)
This cemetery contained a mass grave where 24,000 German soldiers were buried. I could hardly stand in front of it and look at it. So, that was a hard moment, but it is good and important to honor these human lives that were lost.
Later on that day, we drove to Vimy Ridge, which is a Canadian Monument. The surrounding forest area was absolutely covered in craters! And they had signs that said to stay on the path because of undetonated explosives. Yikes.
Finally, we stopped at a tiny cemetery in the middle of nowhere in a wheat field. It was so peaceful and beautiful out there, and the sun was beginning to set. Bjorn and Steve hopped out of the car and began to search in the sugar beet for an old German pillbox from the Hindenburg Line. While looking, they found a bunch of artifacts from the war!! How incredible that history is so present, if only we are looking for it!
^^ and it’s not Belgium without poppies!!! ^^
We ended that day by driving south to Albert, France, and checking in at our Airbnb in that cute town! Our host’s brother and his 2 precious French children met us and showed us around the house we’d be staying at for the next 2 days. Before bed, we went to the McDonalds in town (they are seriously so much nicer in France!!) because they had free Wifi. Nothing like a 10:30 pm cheeseburger in France! 🙂
Our next Europe post will cover a fun day that Signe and I spent exploring in Albert, France! Keep your eyes open for that next little adventure!