Thursday, October 11, 2007

Belgium, Cologne and back to Paris

We have just completed an amazing ten days in Belgium (in the battlefields of the first world war), Brussels (one day), and Cologne in Germany with some family friends. Judith and I attended the 90th anniversary commemoration of the battle of Paeschendale, where my great uncle William Christopher Smith was killed, and the re-interment of the remains of five Australian soldiers. We also located the graves of four of Judith's great uncles and relatives killed around the same time.

We managed a close-up photo of the Governor-General who spoke to us as he walked past. In a long holiday of eating out and looking at cathedrals, museums and art galleries this part of the trip was welcome and extremely important to us. It was cerainly a part of the trip that we will never forget.

The city of Ypres (pronounced "eeper" by the way) was completely destroyed in the first world war. The main town hall, the Cloth Hall (so named because of the cloth trade conducted there through the centuries), was totally destroyed and was completely recreated in its original form after the war. It is a beauiful and impressive sight.

On a lighter note, we hired a car in Lille for the three days for this part of the trip. We ordered the cheapest automatic we could, but when we went to pick it up they said they didn't have any automatic cars so they upgraded us to a manual Alfa Romeo! So we had to drive a six-gear manual Alfa around for three days - damn!!

After our three days in Ypres we took the fast train to Brussels where we had a look around the centre of town and only stayed one night. We then took another train to the border town of Aachen where we were met by the Ehrlich family who were our extremely generous and hospitable hosts for the next three days. It was great to catch up with Joerg, who lived with us for three months in 1996-7, and to meet his family.

The Ehrlichs and Joerg showed us the cathedral, which was the church of Charlemagne, and the Treasury museum connected to it in Aachen and these were indeed impressive and beautiful. It is here that Charlemagne was buried in 814 AD. All through Aachen and Cologne can be found the remnants of the Romans and Roman buildings.

The Ehrlichs took us to their house in Cologne and we had a wonderful two days exploring Cologne, Bonn and the surrounding countryside. The Cologne cathedral dominates the cityscape and is indeed as impressive inside as it is outside. We again saw the attached Cathedral Treasury which is full of treasures from centuries past.

We visited Cardinal Clement's summer rococo palace on the outskirts of Cologne and had a good look at Beethoven's birth town of Bonn. The last night in Cologne was indeed a treat as Jurgen and Elisabeth took us to the city's underground concert hall where we heard the Cologne Symphony Orchestra directed by Markus Stent who only recently returned from Australia where he directed the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for six years.

We returned to Paris the next day by fast train (four hours from Cologne to Paris) and are staying in a flasher part of town at a flasher price! (300 dollars a night). We are taking it easy these last couple of days in Paris and mixing a bit of sight-seeing with shopping.

We have had a brilliant trip with some incredible highlights but it is fair to say that we are looking forward to going home.