I had to go back into my archives to see if I ever posted anything directly related to my 2015 trip to Europe. And yes, the images did appear in several review posts, but I never made a great post about the trip. I don’t understand why! But it probably got caught up in my poorly managed posting schedule, which I only in the past couple of years got onto the right track and had some semblance of order. But either way, I think for this Friday, I get things in order and revisit a special trip of mine with some insights into that trip from a written journal I kept with me and made a point to write every day. While I did take a digital camera, in the spirit of my blog and my photography, the images presented here will be entirely on film. If you want to see everything you can head over to my Flickr page and check out the Collection.
Something is fascinating about leaving so close to midnight; after a long day, I finally got to Pearson International. Many of us had made a point to arrive early, but when you’re travelling by plane with a wide assortment of weapons, you want to get there early. Sadly that also included plenty of hurry up and wait. Thankfully, after a bit of confusion, our weapons were checked along with our bags, boarding passes printed, and it was off to the lounge. A few beers later, it was onto the plane. Now I had flown before, but never in a plane this big; although size is relative to get any legroom, I had to angle myself out and put some legs out into the aisle, only when no one was walking past. KLM certainly knows how to treat their passengers on overnight trans-Atlantic flights. Once we were in the air, drinks, meal, after dinner, had drinks and then slept. I did my best, and I think I got a couple of hours of shut-eye before dawn. Thankfully the coffee flowed freely in the morning, along with breakfast. We made it, and after overwhelming the poor border agent with the sheer number of muskets, pikes, and swords, we were let out into the airport and hurried onto buses. Landing at noon allowed for a bit of time for lunch and exploration in the old city. Our hotel located south of the ancient city was also near a subway stop, so after the rest of the group arrived, we quickly hopped transit and headed back into the old city for dinner and a bit more exploring. My goal is to stay up until midnight local time to be good with the radical time change. We also ended up in the redlight district, which isn’t as bad as people think, but certainly a bit of a shock.
The trick worked, and I woke up with an alarm; we were headed for Brussels today. We also got a real taste for what a proper ‘continental breakfast’ means for Europe. The breakfast bar at our hotel is vast with almost everything you could ever want, including some fantastic coffee, cheese, eggs, fruit, breads and even hagelslag! Thankfully all our big gear had been left in the bus, so it was a quick pack, and we were on the road. Our bus driver happily told us about all the sights we passed on the two-hour bus trip to Antwerp. The one thing that I noticed was poppies everywhere, especially when we passed into Belgium. The bus dropped us off outside the historical centre of Antwerp and gave us time to explore the old city. Colin, Laura and I wandered through the streets after enjoying lunch on a patio. The highlights included the massive Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp, a huge Gothic Cathedral that featured the art of the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens and took nearly two centuries to build. The Antwerp City Hall dates to the mid-1500s, and Het Steen, my first real castle constructed between 1200 and 1225! Then it was off to Brussels.
The trip into Brussels took a bit longer than expected; rush hour is rush hour no matter where you are in the world. It also didn’t help that our hotel was located in a section of the city near Grand Place that did not allow any motorised vehicles (save service vehicles). And our bus had a couple of stops, and we were last. Thankfully it wasn’t too far a walk from where the bus dropped us off to the hotel. Being close to dinner, we headed out and were disappointed by how similar and terrible the restaurants along a small side street were. But we quickly found a pub afterwards to get a decent meal. After a bit of search, the highlight was seeing the Monistarium, and it quickly became our spot. Decorated with items from old churches and chapels, the place had low ceilings and all the Trappist style beers on tap. Thankfully we were able to make it back to the hotel intact.
The next three days of the trip were taken up with the actual event, the Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Despite being bleary-eyed and a touch hungover, we managed to get our kits together. Unlike other reenactment events, we had to take everything we needed. And I mean everything, cleaning gear, polish, food, cameras, the lot. At least we made an entrance marching into the camp with the band playing ahead of us. It certainly caught the crowd’s attention and the units we would be fighting with. Although we were hit with tragedy when one of our own slipped and fell, causing a heart attack and sadly, he passed away. But truly, we mourned and carried on; the first day was spent drilling; it would be the first time working in such a large unit. The company I was in (Pinn’s Panthers) had been working as a unit since January, but this was different. We were forming massive squares for use again cavalry and wheels. It was rough, but the Sargent-Major knew how to command and helped everyone along the way. The next day dawned again, the bleary-eyed stumbled into the bus, and we were off for more drill. But most importantly, we marched out to a field that was a part of the original battlefield. And even more awesome was that we got to see the original Hougoumont, a public museum, but most importantly, La Haye Sainte. Both structures played pivotal roles in the Battle of Waterloo. And being able to see them in person made all the marching and waiting worth it. On the field, things were tough; most reenactments in Canada had maybe 100 people on the field at the most, here there were thousands, troops of all sorts, artillery batteries, bands, and cavalry. We also had two hours ahead of us both nights. I’ll admit, that first cavalry charge scared the living daylights out of me; I stood ready and shouted challenges by the second time. Back and forth we went, the field trampled underfoot. Tired, we all stumbled back to the bus where water and beer were waiting and sang. The same repeated the next day, with a little less drill and a lot more cleaning. Sadly, I could only post a single roll of film from the battle as I lost my second roll somewhere on that field. The second night on the field was almost a repeat, but with a lot more French soldiers on the field, we faced down the Imperial Guard and won the battle again. Late night drinks were had after that second night.
I had no desire to get back into that uniform or try to clean my musket and kit by Sunday. The hotel was already screaming at other reenactors for cleaning their gear in the bathrooms, and the idea of cleaning a musket in a back alley of Brussels had zero appeal. Instead, I paid a fee and hopped on the bus for Bruges. While I probably enjoyed staying in Brussels, heading for Bruge proved as much of an adventure. I like to wander, and that’s exactly what I did, with no direction. And promptly got lost. But I did get to see a building that served as a barracks to a cavalry unit in World War One and one of the surviving city gates. After a quick stop at a small bar, I regained my direction and walked back to the main square. I also found out the joys of pay washrooms. Once back in Brussels, we went out as a whole unit, sadly the place we went to was again like the place we went on the first night in the city. And we ended up having to find another spot to get decent food. Then off for drinks at our usual place but in a different area to support the more significant number of people in our group.
It was a bittersweet day; the group were all going their separate ways off to their own adventures or simply back to the airport to head home. I’m one of the groups which are actually staying in Europe; after packing up my things, I was able to take in another breakfast at the hotel. It also finally started raining, at least it was today and the past week. I can handle a bit of rain. Lugging all my gear around, especially the musket, would make for some exciting times. However, given that the sun didn’t set until about 10 pm, I adjusted my plans. After making sure of the check-out time, I went back up to my room and gave my musket a good once over so it wouldn’t be too terrible when I got home. I secured it in the case, took a good long shower, watched some videos online and checked out the train schedules and how everything worked. Then grabbed another coffee and hauled my gear up to the central train station, which is thankfully right near the hotel. After catching a rail pass, I waited for the next train to leave; I was off to France. The first train took me to a central depot on the outskirts of Brussels, where I grabbed a high-speed rail; I splurged and got a first-class ticket. It was well worth it, as it included drinks and a meal as I headed across the border. Once I got into Lille, it was onto another commuter train to Arras. I also saw my first War cemetery along the way; I was on the western front. The train put me right at the edge of the historic core of Arras. I found my way to a hotel and booked myself in for two nights (or so I thought). The rain didn’t stop, but that didn’t stop me; I had topped up my film stock in Bruges (to replace the rolls lost at Waterloo) and loaded up some Tri-X and hit the streets. It was quiet for a Monday, but the rain probably didn’t help. It rained off and on, and I actually enjoyed myself. Every so often, I had to duck under shelter. Then back to the hotel to dry off a bit. As the set, the rain stopped, and the weather looked good for the rest of the week. I headed out again to get some better shots of the historical city before finding a pub for dinner, then went to a grocery store for a bottle of wine and snacks before turning in.
Of course, the day had to start with drama; it turned out that the hotel clerk thought I had said ‘to night’, not ‘two nights’ lost in translation, I guess. After explaining that I intended to return that night and remain in Arras one more night, the clerk got the manager. Obviously, they could not get me a room at their hotel; it was booked solid. Seeing that the mistake was on them, they arranged for another hotel closer to the train station and that my kit would be there when I arrived. Sadly I missed the first train I wanted out to Vimy but quickly caught the next one in an hour. I originally wanted to use a bicycle to travel from Arras to Vimy, about a 45-minute walk through the countryside. The one place that actually rented bikes did not want them to leave the city; while I could have lied, I decided to be honest. Once in Vimy, I was on my own; it’s a sleepy village with no transportation available. I guess I was on foot. Thankfully I included data on my phone for such an occasion; it was five kilometres from the village to the Canadian Memorial. I started walking. Being smart, I took my haversack from my reenactment kit stocked up on everything I needed for such a walk. Popped on an audiobook (borrowed from Milton Public Library) and hit the trails. The route was easy enough to follow; I took a break and had lunch recording an episode of Classic Camera Revival about halfway through my journey next to one of the many cemeteries that dot this part of France. When I passed through what looked like a logging road after crossing over a wildlife/pedestrian crossing over a highway, I only got concerned once. But it was all worth it as I came out of the woods, and there it was, the memorial towering up over the tall grass. Also, signs warning of unexploded ordinance. I broke down and wept at the foot of the memorial, leaving a poppy and Canadian flag at the base. I had gotten in just before the next big group arrived and had the memorial to myself. After composing myself and photographing it from almost every angle possible, I headed out to the visitors centre. Sadly they were out of the pilgrimage medals. Still, I left my information to get notified when they were available again. Thankfully they also told me of a more leisurely route back to the village, but another five kilometres. Knowing trains were pretty infrequent, I figured out the schedule, grabbed a quick beer at the only bar/cafe in town then returned to Arras. I also received a note that I would be staying the night at the local Holiday Inn Express, next door to the train station. Heading there, I checked into my room, and sure enough, all my kit was there and intact. I did sample escargot at a spot that night, the texture did not appeal to me, but I tried! I found a Domino’s Pizza and got myself something a little more familiar. Watched countless reruns of the original Mission: Impossible as it was the only English language TV I could find other than BBC news.
The joys of being at a Holiday Inn Express, Breakfast and this one had almost the same size breakfast options as the hotel in Amsterdam did, which was excellent. I could pack in a good breakfast before hitting the rails again. As an added bonus, I ran into a group of fellow reenactors on one of the tours offered, so it was nice to see some friendly and familiar faces. Knowing I had a ways to go, I caught an earlier train out of Arras, back to Lille. Once onto the high-speed rail, lunch and drinks were again offered (go first-class) as I sped back towards Belgium. Then transferred to a local train in Antwerp and got to see part of the historic rail station, but a quick stop as I had to run to catch the next train out to Ghent. After the hotel drama in France, I pre-booked my hotel from the train. Sadly the train station in Ghent is fairly distant from the historic centre, but not too far of a walk and besides the item I was looking for was right along the route between the two points. After securing my room, which was located in an odd little section of the hotel but had my own amazing coffee maker, I grabbed my cameras and headed out. The walk took me through some great city areas before entering the medieval core. After dealing with a potential mugger, the police in Belgium handle muggers and pickpockets quickly, I could explore a little more freely. Although the highlight was Gravensteen, a castle constructed in 1180 by Count Philip of Alsace modelling the fortress after the castles built by Crusaders during his time in the Second and Third Crusades. There was even a Guillotine, a real one, not a replica on display! After finishing my tour of the castle, I found a well-stocked beer store, grabbed some beverages, and took a tram back to my hotel, getting take-away on my way back. Ensuring I was ready to go, I enjoyed some local television; it’s a lot easier to find the English language in Belgium than in France.
It was back on the rails, grabbing breakfast at a little cafe in the train station, I was going back to the Netherlands today. The ride was again painless, at least until I got to a small station right inside the border, I missed an announcement and ended up going to the wrong platform and got the wrong train. Thankfully after I realised this and muttered a few words a little too loudly a friendly rail employee came up and asked if I was okay. After explaining what happened, they got on the radio and waited with me for the next station. There another employee escorted me to the correct train to go back the way I came. On the train, I was again met by an employee. Eventually getting back to where I needed to go all thanks to the lovely employees of the railway. I rolled into Tilburg and quickly realised that the place was a bit…boring. After checking into my hotel, I took a look on Google to see if there were any towns nearby that would prove a bit more interesting from a historical point of view. One name stood out, Arnhem, the bridge too far. Grabbing my gear I went and grabbed the next train out. Again I was put a little far from the bridge I wanted to see but I made a point to move quickly towards the bridge. Once there I was taken in by the memorial and saw the bridge itself (despite being the third bridge the second bridge from the battle had been destroyed by the USAAF during World War Two). Then took a longer wander back to the train station by a different route. Once back in Tilburg I grabbed dinner at a local pub, got some more beers, even saw some Goose Island (from Chicago) which struck me as odd.
I was done with city-hopping; with the second week coming close, I decided I needed a home base for a few days and settled on Rotterdam. Finding a good deal on a hotel near the train station, I hopped from Tilburg and rolled into Rotterdam. The hotel was next to the train station, making it easy to dump stuff. I chilled in the hotel for a bit before going out and exploring and noted that the city was far more modern than I expected. Sure there were some pockets of historic architecture, but the overall feel of the downtown was new. Of course, I soon found out why the entire city had been bombed by the Nazis during World War Two out of spite. I would spend the next few days in Rotterdam, including visiting some family. Still, I also managed to locate some of the historical sections of the city. I even found a friendly Irish pub across from my hotel.
I couldn’t be in Rotterdam without visiting Den Haag, the political capital of the Netherlands and, more importantly, where my mom’s family is originally from, but more on that later. The one thing that I noticed was that there were many more people in uniforms and wearing medals on the train platform. The reason became clear once I got into Den Haag and saw even more people in uniform. The train dropped me off at Central Station. Almost as soon as I got out, there was an entire military display, tanks, armoured vehicles and mobile artillery. Not to mention a tonne of people in uniforms of all sorts. I wandered around the exhibition a bit before heading out. I had a long walk ahead of me. I wandered without any real direction; I only knew I wanted to end up in Scheveningen. And I did eventually make it there, walking past the Royal Palace. Although the highlight of the wander was Grote of Sint-Jacobskerk or the Church of St. James. Having been completed in the 15th and 16th Centuries, the church is one of the two oldest buildings in the city. The church features stained glass windows commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The church is also the traditional place for baptisms of the Dutch Royal Family. Eventually, I did make it up to the North Sea, finding a small place for a quick lunch and a cold beer; I then waded into the North Sea. Swinging back towards the Central Station, I found the heart of Old Scheveningen before making my way back to the street. I walked in and caught a tram back to the Central Station and headed back to Rotterdam.
I returned to Amsterdam for the last two days of my trip. I took the train from Rotterdam to the station near the airport to make life easier. From there, I got a hotel shuttle to where I was staying. Being a little worn down, I wandered out to a grocery store to get some snacks and drinks before taking another look and stab at cleaning the musket, which had not handled the trip as well as hoped. Plus, I finally had a room that had a size closer to what I knew from North America. The next day was Canada Day; it was odd to spend it away from Canada. I went back into the Old City, catching a train out from the airport to the Central Station. My goal for the day is to check out the Rijksmuseum, or the Dutch National Museum originally founded in Den Haag in 1800 but moved by Napoleon in 1808 and the current building opened in 1885. The place was huge, and no way I could see it all in a single day. The sheer size of the collection, I only saw a fraction even outstripped what the Royal Ontario Museum and Art Gallery of Ontario have combined. I focused on arms, armour, military history in my wanderings. Then I went back to wandering the old city, checked out a few camera stores and ended up running into a bunch of fellow Canadians and enjoying drinks. The weather had started to heat up, so I decided to visit another two museums to help keep myself calm on my last full day. I got into Het Scheepvaartmuseum, or the Dutch Marine Museum highlighting the Golden Age of the Dutch Empire, including a replica of the VOC Amsterdam. Again a beautiful museum with lots to see, and the ship surprised me at how small everything onboard was, except the cargo hold. From there, I managed to find a tram to take me to The Heineken Experience at the original Heineken brewery. A mix of history and beer. Plus got to pour a perfect pint and enjoy a lot of Heineken. With the heat growing, I returned to my hotel as I was flying out the next day.
I got to the airport far earlier than I needed to, but when you’re flying solo with a musket, you take things a little more cautiously. I didn’t realise that the tour company had taken steps to make sure everything went smoothly. As soon as I checked in, I was met by a security officer, baggage handler and a border guard. The musket and paperwork were checked, bag checked, and I was back to waiting. Thankfully I had more audiobooks to listen to, and wifi access allowed me to watch stuff on YouTube. As I was staying at a lovely pub I found in the airport, I heard that my departure gate had changed. And I had plenty of time to move a distance away to the new entrance. The flight home was far more comfortable as I was on a 747. This time again, KLM did not disappoint with food and drink, plus plenty of movies to enjoy on the long flight home.