In Flanders fields…

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. – Rupert Brooke, 1914

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Image: Copyright Chiromancer 2017

If you read my earlier post Adventures in Benglish…you will know that I have set myself the task of adventuring across the A-Z of Belgium.  It’s a sort of therapy for me.  A way to kill my inner conflict about living here, by being a tourist and acclimatising simultaneously.

I’m not doing it in any kind of chronological order, the only requirements are:  #1 that I hit all 26 letters, and… #2 that I try to visit places that are a bit off the beaten track.

Visiting Ypres (Ieper) probably breaks condition #2, but it does cross off the letter ‘Y’ which I thought might be problematic.  As I headed out of Bruges for an appointment I spotted it on the periphery of my satnav… ‘I’ll give it a go’ I thought, as the sombre stanzas of several War Poets began running through my head…

Two things I had certainly not anticipated. #1 As a town, Ypres is a lot bigger than you think, and…#2 there are war graves everywhere. And, I mean e-v-e-r-ywhere. In fields outside of town, in the middle of residential areas, and of course at the emblematic Menin Gate (Menenpoort).   In the 1920s the Commonwealth War Graves Commission built 150 military cemeteries in and around Ypres in the honour of all those who gave their lives during WW1. I must have missed that part of the history lesson…

What I found so moving today was the realisation that it wasn’t just Germans, French, British and Belgians, who made the ultimate sacrifice, but South Africans, Algerians, Senegalese, Chinese, Indians and loads of other nationalities. A conflict to end all others… It’s estimated that half a million people died between 1914 and 1918.

Which got me thinking…it’s time I started my own inner peace talks. Sacrificing the best of who I am to bend my current world to my will isn’t working. It’s not the way forward. George Orwell wrote that ‘happiness can exist only in acceptance’.  I think he was right…

 

Passport…

Image: Dreamstime

Sometimes, you have to travel far to find yourself.  This year my journey has led me to France, Spain, cross-Channel – and back – for love; to Switzerland and Italy for work. Have passport, will travel!  Actually I have three, but if I told you why, I’d have to kill you…

Those who know me well, know I have a restless heart. Routine bores me! And yet I crave stability. Rules annoy me!! And yet…I crave order. Travel excites me!!!…And yet…

The more miles I racked up, the further I found myself from the people I love.  And even further away from myself.  Business travel sounds glamorous, until you find yourself decanting your suitcase every Sunday evening, only to fill it with security-compliant sized moisturizer and shampoo. Kissing your lover goodbye, knowing that more than a time-zone separates you. Unable to meet friends for a drink after work because you have to get up at the crack of dawn to catch the red-eye to where-ever!

Enough said.  And enough. My round trip has brought me full circle. Sometimes the best adventures are to be found in your own backyard.

Hard-core Husky…

I should start this post by saying…no animals were harmed in the making of this blog and it was not written on the hard shoulder of the M4…any of you expecting voyeristic sex, or heavy breathing should stop reading and re-tune your satellite dish to the naughty channel!

Yes, dogs and harnesses were involved. Yes…on New Year’s Eve, so were a load of naked men in a sauna…more about that later…

Actually, the whole thing started because having grown up in a hot country, I happen to have a thing for snow. Goggles, a furry hat, and seven layers of underwear later, I found myself on a plane to Lapland in December.  Arriving in Kiruna, I had to do a double take on the thermometer…minus 25 Celcius. Pretty. Darn. Chilly.  That’s brass monkey weather to us normal folks…

I thought I knew what to expect.  Having good travelling companions was a given. Only fellow crazies or really good mates would don sledding gear and head out to the big white yonder with nothing but a tea light and some slippers to keep us warm!!  That was before we found out about the guy who didn’t make it, and whose ghost still lurks behind the first cabin we made camp at…Oliver – if you are out there, we come in peace…

What I didn’t expect was a guide who was a cross between Chuck Norris and Bilbo Baggins! What I didn’t expect was chopping frozen entrails twice a day.  And not a drop of alcohol in sight!  Or running water for that matter…the long drop loos are a whole blog on their own!

Despite expectation, what I got…was a pack of dogs – Honey, Simba, Isak and Nanuq to be precise – who loved me as I was. No make-up and nothing made up. They loved the moment, and so did I.

Despite expectation, what I got was a group of fellow travellers who were totally brilliant. In adversity – a.k.a. no booze – we had to forego our disguise and don our regular faces. No make-up, and nothing made up…honest people enjoying fresh, cold air and each other’s company. We loved the moment.

A good way to end 2011. A good way to start 2012.