Each year the organisers make an effort to show their guests a particular facet of their region. Following once again this tradition, the Ostend organising team laid on the great First World War commemorative excursion to Westhoek on Friday November 17th, a sunny day as luck would have it.
On this occasion a whole fleet of buses was hired for the journey to Ypres, a city which has gone down in history as the first place where poison gas was used by the Kaiser’s armies, this mustard gas being named ‘Yperite’. This pretty city, located about an hour’s drive from Ostend, is known especially for its ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum installed in the Cloth Hall. You are immersed in the everyday life of soldiers and civilians of the Flanders region, which stretches from the coast down to the French frontier. It is a very educational museum and what is more, while one group was visiting the museum, the second group was being briefed in a workshop on the different types of armament in use in former times.
The second stop was near to the Hooge Crater private museum, which has next to it a restaurant in which lunch was briskly served. Very quickly the terrace was crowded with delegates eager to enjoy the sunshine.
This was followed by a visit to the St. Charles de Potyze French military cemetery, resting place for 4,000 soldiers. The visit was most informative, thanks to a guide who was both talkative and articulate.
‘Hill 60’, almost the only hill in this region which is as flat as a pancake, was also the stimulus for our wordy guide to explain in minute detail the vagaries of the war in this sector where the traces of the period are still very visible. Our return to Ypres and thence to Ostend was without delay and punctual because the gala dinner evening was scheduled for 18.30.
The other excursions
Several other excursions for the visitors were also on the programme. Thus of course there was a guided tour of Ostend, but also of Bruges, Ghent and Brussels. The tour of Ostend on foot gave the participants the chance of getting to know a little better this very popular seaside town where the coastal tram is not only a means of transport but also a tourist attraction.
Along the quayside not far from the station there were stalls selling fish and shellfish specialities, waiting for punters.
They were being watched anxiously by a seagull waiting nearby. Passers-by are forbidden to feed the gulls, under threat of a fine!
As we continued our walk, we saw the ‘works of art’ on the quayside. They are very controversial, but also very real!