A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Seniorcitizens


Our Waterloo too!!!!

sunny 22 °C

This ground is soaked in blood, no sooner had we left the Ardennes and the tragedy of the battles around Bastogne and and La Roche 80 years ago than we arrive in Waterloo the site of Napoleon's last stand. In 1815, 100 years before WW1 Napoleon escaped from the island of Elba, gathered loyal followers, challenged Louis XV111 and again put his plans in play to subjugate as much of Europe as he could.

Seeing a possible return to his attempted mastery over all of Europe a number of European countries determined to end the constant warfare combined under the command of the Duke of Wellington in order to end this turmoil. Wellington was joined by Dutch, German and Belgian forces to try to halt his plans, Waterloo in not far from Brussels and was, at the time, a part of the Netherlands but is now a part of Belgium. Napoleon was keen to take on Wellington and his troops before Austria and Russia became involved.
The opposing army's met on a single day in June 1815 with Napoleon bringing some 72.000 men whilst the allied army's totaled approx 120.000 men. In one single day of battle Napoleon's causalities were around 33,000 whilst Wellingtons totaled 22,000 almost equal in total to the British losses on the first day of the Battle of the Somme just 100 years later. It is unfathomable how that much death can stain the earth in such a short amount of time.
Whilst the outcome of Waterloo was a close call and many seem to suggest that the reason Napoleon lost was because he wasted too much time early on in the day giving the Prussians time to arrive with support for Wellington. Ultimately the tragedy was experienced by all. In the wake of the devastation Wellington was quoted ; "Believe me, nothing except a battle lost, can be half so melancholy as a battle won."
This saw the last of Napoleon but it also brought in what was referred to as 'Pax Britannica' a time of peace that lasted for almost 100 years where there were no further battles on the European continent.


Given the significance of the battle it didn't take long for the first memorials to be erected on the site. Ten years on the recognisable 'Lion's Mound" was built at the request o the Dutch king on the spot where his son (who survived the battle) was wounded on the shoulder and knocked from his horse., it was built from the soil of the battle ground and can be seen for miles around. There a 227 steps to the top with a Lion Monument on the top.

As the 100th anniversary approached a rotunda was erected with a panorama depiction of the battle for a full 360 degrees.
Much more recently a 'high tech' interactive museum has been built underground so as not to impact the historic sky line. The museum takes you on a journey to discover the circumstances that led to the battle, a detailed analysis of the various stages of the battle and the outcome for the average soldiers and for the commanders. There was also a 4D theater experience of the battle. We did struggle with tech sources but we were definitely not alone.
Back to Goes from here and time to rest with family before celebrating John's 70th birthday.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 07:48 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Bastogne & La Roche

The Battle of the Bulge

overcast 18 °C

As we head up through Belgium we inevitably cover the ground that was fought over tenaciously during two world wars despite Belgium's neutrality being ratified prior to both conflicts. The south east corner was particularly vulnerable and the population was overrun and occupied for the duration of both conflicts. As in all battles terrible atrocities occurred leaving towns destroyed, civilians killed and livelihoods ruined. With the success of the D-Day landings and the gradual liberation of France and then Belgium through the summer and Autumn of 1944, previously occupied towns celebrated liberation. In September it was the turn of Bastogne who had endured a harsh occupation but their freedom was short lived. Hitler was planning one final assault that would ' put a stop to' the rout that was happening. Despite contrary advice from the majority of his generals he decided to launch a major assault through the Ardennes to the port of Antwerp to stop the allies from supplying their forces moving that were eastward. For this he enlisted German males aged from 16 to 60 (there were no others left).
So the towns which had so recently celebrated liberation were, 3 months later subject to overwhelming bombardment as the panzer tanks rolled on through. Bastogne was at a critical junction, with winter fast approaching Americans set up a perimeter round the town in an effort to halt the attack. The weather was appalling, they had limited supplies as the poor weather would not allow for any additional supplies be dropped from the air and they were surrounded on the ground. The towns people were hiding out in freezing cellars with very limited supplies so the soldiers dug 'fox holes' around a perimeter to try to defend the position and the town.

This battle became known as 'The Battle of the Bulge' and was notorious for its ferocity and 'no holds barred' tactics which included Germans dressing as American soldiers to infiltrate their defenses. Driving through Bastogne which has been rebuilt many of the the streets are named for the significant generals and there is a statue of General Patton. We were drawn to the museum which focused on the lead up to, the actual conflict and its aftermath. The museum was opened in 2014 and employs a wide range of 'high-tech' processes to tell its story. You are supplied with a headset which activates at specific points in the exhibition and there are 3 interactive displays you can enter using 3D glasses and the headset which tells the story in the language of the listener. In the one that told about the experience in the forest among the trees the temperature drops, although not to the freezing points that the soldiers experienced, another takes you into the cellar under a café in Bastogne where the locals where seeking protection from the bombardment, they were there for about 6 weeks. The technology certainly gave the experience a new dimension and brought it very much alive.
Also as a part of our ticket we could drive on another 6km to a battle field site and using a downloaded app you could walk through the forest, see the 'foxholes' and engage the app at specific points to hear more of the story of the group of American soldiers positioned there.
The relevance of the history was brought into focus when passing the nearby farmhouse to see it flying the Ukrainian flag.

We travelled the next day to La Roche another town caught in the pathway of the German onslaught it is a beautiful town on the banks of the Ourthe River , but it had been completely destroyed, there were only 4 structure left standing in the whole town after the Germans eventually retreated.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 14:45 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)


....via Luxemburg

semi-overcast 20 °C

Continuing west we drove through the tiny Duchy of Luxemburg, overall, it looks far more industrial than Northern France and is relatively hilly. It was quite common when crossing via ducts to look down into the valley and see very attractive towns and villages. We crossed back into Germany to visit the oldest German city just across the border.

We managed to dust off the bikes and ride into Trier from our camp site along the Mosel river and across the Roman bridge.
Trier was founded in 16 BC by Emperor Augustus and became one of the four capitals of the Roman Empire, ruling over most of Gaul. As a result, it also has extensive Roman ruins (although not as well preserved as others we have seen) and a substantial medieval sector. Our attention was caught in our searching by a quote which referred to Trier as ‘an undiscovered gem’ of the ancient world and thought that sounded interesting, but we are here to dispel that suggestion, everywhere we went there were tour groups, buses, and large groups of both primary and secondary aged students on excursions.
The most significant relic is the Porta Nigra, the remaining city gate built to defend Trier to the north. It wasn’t called Porta Nigra (Black gate) until the Middle Ages when weather and other influences had stained the sandstone a dark black. It is truly massive and inside the structure is substantial, the views are also quite good. During the Middle Ages it became a church after St Simeon had lived and died there as a hermit and it is reported that Napoleon had wanted to destroy it in the early 1800’s but was tricked by the locals into believing that it had some links with Gaulish traditions, so he left it alone. 20230920_101648.jpgIMG_3877.JPG
Trier is also the birthplace of Karl Marx, I read in the museum that Marx’s grandfather was the last Rabbi in Trier. They have established a museum in the house he was born in, the house did not play a significant part in his life although he did live in Trier until he left to study, but the museum focuses more on his life, the ideas he worked on and the other philosophers and thinkers he associated with. His parents had wanted him to take up law, maybe the 20th century would have been a lot calmer if they had been more insistent.20230921_103703.jpgIMG_3932.JPGIMG_3933.JPGb4c2c060-5a36-11ee-a954-951b2cf9fd52.jpg
Continuing the challenges in the van, our hot water system has now packed it in so we are conceding defeat and heading back to Goes and handing the van back. We will just meander up through Belgium on our way back.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 17:12 Archived in Germany Comments (0)


Armistice in a Glade.

semi-overcast 26 °C

Back to Dover and the Ferry after a fleeting visit to UK, this time no thorough inspections of all the cavities in the van!!!! Obviously not a concern going in the opposite direction.
Landing on French soil we headed west to Compiegne on the Oise River again with a rich history. We checked out the Palace of Compiegne, which was built for the royal family prior to the Revolution in 1790 so its design is very grand, but it continued to be used by Napoleon and then Napoleon III so different parts of it reflect the design style of the different residents. It is much more elegant with its clean Roman lines than many of the other chateaus and palaces, which give it an air of solidity and authority. From Marie Antionette, Josephine, Marie-Louise and Napoleon III there was a variety of styles.
One of the reasons that we had sought out Compiegne was because it was the site of the train carriage where the WW1 Armistice was signed on Nov 11th 1918. The setting is a peaceful glade in the Compiegne Forest, quite at odds with war raging all around. This carriage was destroyed in 1945 but there is a replica of the carriage set up just as it was at the time. During the 1920’s the French saw this as a significant event and turned the area into a memorial for the peace that was brokered there, encouraging visitors to see the carriage and the memorial to Ferdinand Foch, the French general who instigated the process.
Come WW2 and the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 (remember Dunkirk a couple of blogs ago) Hitler was adamant that France would have to sign the surrender in the exact same carriage on the exact same spot. The carriage was pulled out of the building it had been placed in and dragged the couple of hundred metres to the precise spot that it had been in 1918. The seating was set up exactly opposite to the way it had been in 1918 and the French were forced to eat 'humble pie'. once the signing was complete Hitler ordered the destruction of the entire site, devastating the forest and other symbols that had been there. The only thing that was left intact was the statue of General Foch, high on his plinth where he could survey the devastation that had been wrought on his peace, and to seal his 'victory' Hitler had the carriage towed back to Berlin .

We spent a couple of nights in the van in the carpark of the museum which lent it a slightly eerie feeling.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 18:36 Archived in France Comments (0)


Old 'Blighty"

overcast 22 °C

Arriving in Dover we headed toward Oxford, (we had missed out earlier in our travels) much more pleasant travelling now as the temperatures are back in the mid-twenties. Arrived at a lovely little country pub, The Swan in Ilsey not far from Oxford. Many pubs were happy to allow you to park overnight in their carpark if you popped in for a drink and a meal. Had a lovely chat with the barman and he told us about the oldest road in UK just up along the ridge, so we went for a walk to check it out. It is called the Ridge Way and has been used for at least 5.000years as a trading route and safer means for travelling, high enough to see threats and able to drain excess water from so it was reliable and predictable. It is also a site where Birds of Prey can be seen.
With rain setting in we drove to a park and ride site in Oxford, traffic was mad, and caught a bus into the centre of Oxford. Dodging the rain, we crossed the river where the Head of the River is held and went to check out Christ college Oxford, home to stories like; Morse, Lewis and Endeavour and the environment which nurtured such minds as Lewis Carroll, J.R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis. It has held onto its deep traditions and the language that goes with it but is also admired for the rigor of its current academic achievements. Sites around the college have been used in various films which of course includes Harry Potter. The historic dining hall which still serves as the dining hall for current students was the setting for the dining hall in Hogwarts although through sneaky camera tricks Hogwarts looks far bigger than does Christ College. There is also the famous Tom Quad which frequently appears in crime mysteries set in this space. The gardens set around the entrance to the College are something to behold.
On from Christ College we checked out the Oxford Museum, the Ashmoleon, the Bodleian Library, the covered market and St Mary's Anglican Church which chronicles, among other things, the tragic and horrific demise of both Catholic and Protestant martyrs, depending on the political/religious flavor of the time. For some reason authorities seem to save the most brutal deaths for religious adherents allowing zero possibility for anyone with differing beliefs. As the day wore on the rain became heavier and heavier.
Spent the night in the park and ride then headed off to Blenheim Palace just outside Oxford, it is the largest non-royal palace in the UK and was created by the first Lord Marlborough (not quite the image we were used to as “The Marlborough Man”) following a grant from Queen Anne as a reward for halting the French at the battle of Blenheim in the 1600’s. This is also the place Winston Churchill was born. Lots of deep history with all the baubles and trinkets that go with the history and the setting. Over the centuries as it has fallen in and out of debt various Lords have married daughters of American millionaires. One such was the Vanderbilt heiress whose pushy mother insisted that she reject her love and seek the title. It is reported that she so disliked her husband that she was known to use a large table centre piece to block her view of the Lord whilst they ate. The home is also a treasure trove of interesting paraphernalia regarding Winston Churchill for whom Blenheim Palace was a favorite place. Looking around at the splendid setting it is not hard to appreciate how he developed a sense of destiny coming from all that history and grandeur.
Leaving Oxford, we headed toward Stratford with aims of checking out some of our literary history. We went first to Ann Hathaway’s cottage/farmhouse. It is amazing to imagine that it has been maintained in a continuous line since about 100 years prior to her time there and whilst it has been changed and added to you still get a sense of what it could have been like in her time. The family were middle class primarily wool growers, and the fortunes of the house were impacted by the success or otherwise of the wool industry.
From there we headed into central Stratford to check out Shakespear’s birthplace. This is where he was born, grew up and then where he brought his wife and growing family to live until he was able to buy his own place. This was the most interesting of the places as it still hosted the glove making workshop next to the home and was chiefly set up as it had been in his time. For anyone who has read Maggie O’Farrell’s Hammet, it was very recognizable.
As our ticket was a three in one, we also visited the ‘New House’ which was a distinct disappointment as it was merely the site of the house he bought for his family after he had made good as one of the King’s Players, but it felt like a bit of a letdown.

Spent the night in a Sainsbury’s carpark.

Posted by Seniorcitizens 18:07 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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