I woke up in glorious sunshine and one of the nicest showers I had ever been in; lapping up the mod cons before going back to the stone age! I had an important job to do today. A good friend of mine had lost her father in Holland in the Second World War. She has never been over to see his grave and so I thought I would pay a visit to show my respects. I had researched before I left home and knew that he was buried at a commonwealth war graves cemetery at Mierlo, just outside of Eindhoven. As I waved goodbye to my friend I set route for Holland. The problem was I had forgotten to download the maps for Holland! I will never know if my friend ever spotted me parked up on her driveway stealing her internet, but if she did, I’m glad she didn’t come out to take the piss out of me!
Google Maps has totally changed the world hasn’t it? Before it was around, when you looked at a map you saw where you were going but had no idea what it would be like when you got there. Due to Google Maps Street View, I knew exactly where the cemetery was and what it looked like in the area around it. I knew where to park and knew what sort of area it was. The adventure, somewhat diminished, was about to begin.
I wanted to place some flowers on the grave and so drove into the centre of Mierlo to find a shop, a toilet and a pastry. As with all Dutch towns and villages, the thing that hits you the most is the number of bicycles. All the way from Dunkirk, the largest hills that I had seen were mole hills. You could see mums and dads coming home from schools with loads of kids behind them on bikes, like a family of ducks. The perfect terrain mixed with great infrastructure such as bike lanes and cycle paths made it so much more attractive compared to taking the car.
I stopped in the busy shopping street and picked up a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie. The kind and happy old gent behind the counter seemed to know every one of his customers and often seemed to anticipate their orders before they even got into the shop. It was a lovely, clean and friendly place and I sat in the window and watched the world go by with the sun on my face and wonderful feeling that this trip was turning out to be everything that I hoped it would.
I tidied up my cup and my plate and said my farewells. I was on the hunt for flowers and had spotted a supermarket just next door. I picked up a bunch of orange roses, representing the national colour of the Dutch people, and headed for the little car park opposite the cemetery that I felt that I knew so well from Google Maps.
As I walked across the busy road heading from Mierlo to Geldrop from the car park, it was immediately apparent what a superb job the commonwealth war graves commission does day in and day out. The whole cemetery looked like it was a football pitch ready for a cup final with perfectly cut lawns and razor sharp edges. It was spotless. Perfectly tended and, I don’t mind admitting it, brought a tear to my eye.
I signed into the visitor’s book and checked the location of the grave. As soon as I spotted the name right there in print it all became very real. As I walked over to the grave stone all I could hear was the gentle chirping of the birds sitting in the trees that were slowly swaying in the gentle breeze. It was perfect. I placed the flowers on the grave stone and just took a moment to take in all the emotion, peace and tranquillity of the moment.
I called my friend back in England to tell her where I was and what I had done and reassure her that her father was in a beautiful place and beautifully cared for. I took some photos to share with her when I got home and as I walked back to my car I thought to myself that if the rest of the trip was a nightmare of rain, bad campsites and car breakdowns, today had made the trip worthwhile no matter.
I made my way south from Eindhoven, heading towards Genk. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure where I was heading for the rest of the trip. I was thinking Bavaria but possibly Italy, so just headed South/South East until I could make up my mind. I didn’t follow the motorway; I stuck to local roads and found a lovely little spot to stop at the Lozen Waterway.
I just parked up and watched barges, and the rest of the world, passing by. No-one was in a hurry, life was calm, the going easy and the sun belted down on the flat land and calm canal. The only noise was the light traffic and the occasional bicycle rattling past.
By the time I arrived at Genk I had decided that I was going to aim to get to Bastogne for my first night in a tent. The towns that were signposted such as Malmedy, Aachen and St Vith were steeped in history, especially for those that show an interest in the Second World War. I wanted to visit Bastogne as it was such a famous battle zone, even more so after it was highlighted in the TV series Band Of Brothers.
I slowly meandered through the beautiful green Ardennes region and got to Bastogne just before tea time. With a little help from Titchy back home, I found a campsite and got the tent pitched in no time at all. I had hardly moved all day and so went for a quick run into town to stretch the legs. I went to bed that night excited at the prospect of the following day, where I would be walking through history.
PS I know it’s immature, but I also passed through a village called Bra. 🙂