Behind the lines
Margaret and Steve were picked up by friends and taken to Waregem, leaving me to make plans to visit Brugge with my mate Phil who is arriving from UK. Unfortunately my phone wasn't working (see Rant) and by the time I got it sorted the day was more than half over. I was in Armentieres in France and once again frustrated by the lack of tourist info and ridiculous maps that don’t locate "You are Here" so that you can get your bearings. The only two public toilets in the town were out of order and the Info Centre was closed for lunch.
I decided to head back into Belgium to Poperinge. Almost as soon as I crossed the border, the attitude changed again. One of the local shops in a tiny village Heuvelland allowed me to use their toilet and were really pleased to be able to practice their English on me.
Poperinge is 13 kms from Ieper and was always behind the lines, safe from shell fire. It was used as a respite centre where troops could be rested, washed, fed and entertained before being sent back to the trenches to do it all again. 250,000 soldiers were billeted in the area. Talbot House was transformed into "Every Man's Club", where all soldiers were welcome, regardless of rank, and run by a Reverend Tubby Clayton. The current house has been fully restored and has 4 storey’s of rooms refurbished in the WWI style. The gardens were set out beautifully and the museum contained brilliant exhibits and interesting information boards and photos.
Afterwards, I wandered around the town a bit more and had a delicious coffee and apple cake in a small Patisserie.
It was still reasonable early and I had no reason to go back to Ieper so I headed west to Nieuwpoort. I had seen a picture of the Albert memorial but didn’t realise just how damn big it was until I saw it in real life. Other than that, Nieuwpoort was pretty much just like the Gold Coast with hundreds and hundreds of apartment buildings lining the coast... as far as the eye could see. Even as I was leaving, it took me nearly 15 minutes to clear the highrises.
It was a nice little back country drive to Diksmuide but I was far too late to visit the museum there. The tower was mightily impressive on its own though. I had an excellent dinner at a local restaurant where the staff were so friendly and nice (so different from the French) and I was treated to a fabulous sunset as I ate.