I’m back home now and slowly easing my way back into “normal” life with a steady diet of baseball and cricket. While there are some benefits to being home quite frankly I’d rather be wandering the footpaths and scrutinizing my OS maps. Unfortunately there’s no adventures on the horizon … at least for now.
After my reluctant departure from Orkney I returned to Inverness on the “Orkney Bus” where I spent a couple of days continuing my genealogy research. I didn’t glean much new information this time around but I did enjoy my visit to the battlefield at Culloden. The new visitors center is excellent and well worth the admission price. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry my 5xgreat-grandfather, Alexander Grant, fought for the Jacobite cause and was badly wounded. Bonnie Prince Charlie made some pretty monumental blunders that day.
From Inverness I took the train to Edinburgh where I enjoyed a 3-day visit to the city, my first since 1983. I spent one day in the Scotland’s People Center madly collecting family research data in an “all-you-can-eat for £10” feeding frenzy. I arrived at 9:15am and didn’t budge from my seat until they closed up shop at 4:30pm. I definitely got my money’s worth! I spent the rest of my time wandering all over the city, mixing touristy sights with visits to the homes and graves of my Edinburgh kin.
At the beginning of the week I returned to London where I met up with Janice (my girlfriend) who flew in the following day. We took the Eurostar (a first for me) to Brussels and caught a train to Bruges where we spent three days. I had a brief visit to Bruges many years ago but this beautiful little city deserved a much longer visit. If you’ve not been then you’ll get an idea of what I mean by checking out the photos in my Photo Gallery. The city itself is a highlight but it would be irresponsible of me not to mention the visit to the pub which offered 400 (yes, 400) different beers.
One of the objectives of this blog was to weave the story of my great-grandfather Herbert into the account of my walk. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to do a proper job of it so it will have to wait for another day. However I did manage to follow in his footsteps through Flanders fields with the help of a Battlefield Guide I hired prior to leaving Canada. Janice and I met Jacques from Flanders Battlefield Tour in Kortrijk and spent the day exploring the battlefields, memorials and cemeteries in and around Ypres. We followed the road from St. Jan to Wieltje that Herbert marched up with others from the 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment) on the afternoon of April 22, 1915 in an effort to plug the opening caused by the first gas attacks on the Western front. All around us were the carefully manicured cemeteries, the final resting place of tens of thousands of Commonwealth soldiers, most half my age, that fell in the Ypres Salient. A visit to Flanders is an emotional experience but one I think every Canadian should try to make.
From Bruges we made our way to Amsterdam where we spent a week chilling out in the ‘chill out’ capital of the world. Now Amsterdam can be a wild place on any day but we arrived the day before the World Cup Final and the streets were awash in a sea of orange. They partied hard before and after the match … god only knows what would have happened had they won! What I love about Amsterdam is that despite all the craziness it’s relatively easy to find a quiet spot, even in the heart of the city. We had a fantastic little studio apartment overlooking a bridge and canal, just a five minute walk from heart of the old district. My favourite part of the day was just chilling out with a beer and taking in our leafy surroundings. We were treated to a spectacular lightening storm the day we arrived and throughout the week the hot and humid days would give way to a short and monsoon-like downpour that I haven’t experienced since southeast Asia. We spent most of our time walking and enjoying the cafes (no, not the brown ones) all over Amsterdam but there was one day trip we had to make. That was a visit to the Canadian cemetery at Groesbeek so that Janice could visit the grave of her grandfather who fell liberating Holland in the final weeks of WWII.
After a great stay in Amsterdam we headed to Paris for the final week our trip. Again we rented an apartment and although this one didn’t have the view we had in Amsterdam it did have a fantastic location, just a 5-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. I know the Eiffel Tower is the ultimate purpose built tourist attraction but I never tired of seeing it, especially at night when it is truly spectacular. For me the best thing about Paris is the Eiffel Tower and the delicious baguettes … I can do without paying $7 for a tiny glass of beer and spending my day negotiating busy intersections on foot. Despite the crowds we logged a lot of miles under very hot and sunny skies. We made one day trip and that was to Vimy Ridge. The recently renovated memorial is, quite simply, stunning. The sun’s reflection off of the white limestone was blinding and several of my photos had to be taken with my eyes closed. In addition to visiting the memorial we had an excellent guided tour of the trenches and tunnels by a Canadian university student – highly recommended should you visit (and you should). Last but not least I visited the grave of my cousin (twice removed) who died on the morning of the battle, April 9, 1917. He was a 23 year-old Lieutenant in the 75th Battalion, one of the 3,598 Canadians who died in the five day battle to take the ridge (an additional 6,000 were injured).
In Part 2 I’ll summarize my thoughts regarding my long walk and offer up my opinions for those planning their own LEJOG.