By Larry and Joan Dolinski
Continued from update #39
As we approached the Alps, the flowery meadows gave way to rivers and streams with captivating panoramas of mountains and valleys. Again, as we approached Geneva, it was back and forth across the French/Swiss frontier. At one point we were quite close to Zermatt (this time on the Swiss/Italian border), the site of the Matterhorn. A few members of our group went off route at that point to ski and to snowboard in that prized ski resort. Larry skied at Zermatt years ago and remembers skiing across the international border from Switzerland into Italy, and back. He was required, at that time to carry his passport on the ski run, an adventure-heightening experience. It would be less dramatic these days because of the ease of travel within the European Community.
On the way to Geneva we had an unusual experience relating to one of the riders, Gilbert, who comes from a small village in France, very near to Geneva. The bike route passed right through his village, better yet right past the vineyard owned by his family. They prepared a wonderful party for us right there "on route" at the vineyard. His whole family was here, including his mother, who was celebrating her 90th birthday. It was a warm and huggy party and of course it was accompanied by the "family" wine.
More biking, more villages, more of Switzerland and Germany, and many pleasant miles long the Rhine River. The Rhein "overflows" with river traffic, both commercial and tourist, and passes through many a charming village. Also, there are railroads along both river banks. In some places the Rhein constitutes the border between Germany and France. The bike route along the Rhein is known as the "Deutsche Weinstrasse" (Wine Road) and is an economically important vineyard region, producing many of Germany's great wines.
Through and over the Alps and on into Luxembourg. At that point we went off route with about 40 other bikers for a side trip to Brugges, Belgium, a.k.a. "The Venice of the North." We had been there years ago and found it so delightful that we decided to return. A special program of tours and museums had been arranged for us.
From Brugges, most of the folks returned to the route. The two of us, however, decided to extend our "off route" activities in order to visit some of the WW I battlefields and the museum at Ypres.
Ypres, in Flanders, is the place where poison gas was first used in April 1915. We visited THE "Flanders Field" where John McCrae composed the poem, "In Flanders Fields, in May 1915. Many will recall the poem which opens:
"In Flanders Fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row..."
We visited some of the actual trenches used in the war...and can say that the worst day of camping is palatial compared to the life of a soldier in the trenches. All wars are, of course horrific, this one even more so. In over three years of trench warfare, the front line never moved by more than a few hundred yards. The number of casualties was catastrophic. Nine million men died in battle, and millions more soldiers and civilians died of influenza. In the immediate vicinity of Ypres, there are 160 military cemeteries. We were told that Rudyard Kipling (who lost a son in 1915 whose body was never identified) was placed on the War Graves Commission and influenced the design and protocol relating to those cemeteries.
Every night at the Menin Gate in Ypres, the bugles play "Last Post. "The night we attended was special (at the request of a family honoring one of their own); there were more than the usual number of buglers and a recitation was performed by a WW II veteran of the Gold Beach landing at Normandy.
We returned to the Odyssey group much enriched by our visit.
Continued on Update #41
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