Meet and greet with your English-speaking guide / driver in the hotel lobby, from where you will be taken for an exciting guided day, in memory of World War I.
From 1914 to 1918, Flanders Fields was a major battle theatre on the Western Front during the First World War. A million soldiers from more than 50 different countries were wounded, missing or killed in action here. Entire cities and villages were destroyed, their population scattered across Europe and beyond. The destruction of the city of Ypres and the brutal conditions endured during the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Battle of Ypres) became worldwide symbols for the senselessness of war. Today, the peaceful region still bears witness to this history through its monuments, museums, cemeteries and the countless individual stories that link it with the world. Also, the poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’, by John McCrae, went on to inspire the use of the poppy, which once grew on the battlefields of Flanders Fields, to become an enduring symbol of remembrance across the world.
After a 60-minute drive by luxurious private vehicle, we will reach Ieper (Ypres). Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. Though Ieper is the Dutch and only official name, the French Ypres is most commonly used in English for its role in World War I, when Belgian maps still named Flemish cities only by their French names. During World War I, Ypres was the center of intense and sustained battles between German and the Allied forces. During the war, because it was hard to pronounce in English, British troops nicknamed the city “Wipers”. The drive will take you through the Flanders Fields including their Bunkers.
After the war, the town was rebuilt using money paid by Germany in reparations, with the main square, including the Cloth Hall and town hall, being rebuilt as close to the original designs as possible (the rest of the rebuilt town is more modern in appearance). The Cloth Hall today is home to Flanders Fields Museum, dedicated to Ypres’s role in the First World War. Ypres these days has the title of “city of peace” and maintains a close friendship with another town on which war had a profound impact: Hiroshima.
The imposing Cloth Hall was built in the 13th century and was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages. The structure, which stands today, is the exact copy of the original medieval building, rebuilt after the war. The belfry that surmounts the hall houses a 49-bell carillon. The whole complex was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. The Gothic-style St. Martin’s Cathedral, originally built in 1221, was also completely reconstructed after the war, but now with a higher spire. It houses the tombs of Jansenius, bishop of Ypres.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the missing in Ypres commemorates those soldiers of the British Commonwealth. The memorial’s location is especially poignant as it lies on the eastward route from the town which allied soldiers would have taken towards the fighting – many never to return. Every evening since 1928 (except for a period during the Second World War when Ypres was occupied by Germany), at precisely eight o’clock, traffic around the imposing arches of the Menin Gate Memorial has been stopped while the last post is sounded beneath the Gate by the local fire brigade. This tribute is given in honor of the memory of British Empire soldiers who fought and died there. The Menin Gate in Ypres records only the soldiers for whom there is no known grave. As graves are identified, the names of those buried in them are removed from the Menin Gate.
There will also be a visit to the Tyne Cot Cemetery. This Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery is the burial ground for the dead of the First World War in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. The cemetery grounds were assigned to the United Kingdom, in perpetuity by King Albert I of Belgium in recognition of the sacrifices made by the British Empire in the defense and liberation of Belgium during the war. It is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world, for any war.
The cemetery and its surrounding memorial are located outside of Passendale, near Zonnebeke in Belgium. The name “Tyne Cot” is said to come from the Northumberland Fusiliers seeing a resemblance between the German concrete pillboxes, which still stand in the middle of the cemetery, and typical Tynerside workers’ cottages – Tyne Cots.
Along the way, there is leisure time for lunch. Depending on where you are when you would like to have lunch, your guide will give you some restaurant suggestions.
From here, you will be taken back to your hotel in Bruges, where you will have the remainder of the day for your own leisure. You will arrive back around 5pm.