European road trip – day 2 – Oosterscheldekering, Ypres, and Dunkirk

The nice thing about driving in Belgium and the Netherlands is that the road quality is super good. There were hardly any potholes anywhere and the speed limits are higher than what I’m used to. The speed limit on most highways is 130 km/h in the Netherlands and is 120 km/h in Belgium, while where I am it’s 112 km/h (70 mph). The signage is super clear, albeit in Dutch/Flemish/French depending on where we were. Also, having a decent base in German and French vocabulary allowed me to guess the meanings on road signs, which was nice.

Our second day takes us to Oosterscheldekering, Ypres, and Dunkirk.

Oosterscheldekering (Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier)

We began our day two heading back into the Netherlands, to a network of storm surge barriers, designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding. Large sets of doors can open and close to control the water flow coming in from the ocean. They’re important because most of the Netherlands sits a few metres above sea level or lower, and thus are prone to flooding.

As we drove in the area of Oosterscheldekering, we encountered a lot of windmills spinning noticeably in the wind. And I wondered where all the old traditional windmills went, as in the ones with a tower made of brick with four rectangular fan blades . Netherlands has a stereotype of having a lot of them. We barely saw any of them and then it occurred to me that most of them were probably upgraded to use modern technology.

Ypres

Our next destination, Ypres, is known for the many battles that occurred there during the First World War, where the Germans introduced chemical weapons in the battlefield in the form of poison gas. During the course of the war, the town was destroyed, mostly by artillery fire.

The town was rebuilt after the war using German war reparations, with the main square following the original design as closely as possible. The In Flanders’ Fields Museum (the big building in the above picture) is a museum dedicated to the First World War.

Dunkerque (Dunkirk)

Our final destination for the day was the French port city of Dunkirk, known for the role it played during the evacuation of Allied forces from France. The Germans had achieved a breakthrough in France and had surrounded the bulk of Allied forces around Dunkirk. The German airforce was tasked to destroy these forces, so that the Germany army could conserve its ground forces for other operations, but the Germans failed to destroy the Allied forces and over 338000 soldiers were successfully evacuated to Britain.

That night, the locals were having a festival, called the “Bal du Chat Noir”, probably loosely translated as “The Black Cat Ball”. It’s so obscure that as of this writing, an English Wikipedia article for this festival doesn’t even exist. The French Wikipedia describes it as a festival to celebrate the opening of the carnival season (i.e. the Christian Carnival), and that it’s local to Dunkirk.

From what I can tell, it’s kind of like the Carnival in Cologne, where people party in the streets dressed up in costumes. There’s no shortage of reasons for people to party!

Stay tuned for day 3!

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