Our original plan was to spread the 520km ride from Ypres to the Horizons Unlimited meeting place in Pfrimmtel, Sippersfeld, Germany over a few days as we didn’t need to arrive ’till Wednesday, however we decided to crunch the distance in a single day, and the 130kph autobahn helped us do that relatively easily in five hours. By aiming to arrive at the campsite early we hoped to finish off our presentations, however the absence of electricity to recharge our devices left us somewhat jammed. We checked into the campsite and erected our tent, and then took the bike and went looking for food….. which proved much harder than anticipated. Many of the little villages we had passed through enroute to the campsite did not appear to have a shop or Restauarant, and those that did were closed. It appears as if everywhere is closed on Mondays. We finally found a posh restaurant that was open, and we enjoyed a delicious…. if expensive dinner. Given that we hadn’t eaten much through the day we were grateful to find food, even at 70 euros. The campsite itself wasn’t cheap at 23 euro per night, and the absence of facilities is in stark contrast to the Jeager Stadion Campground we had left in Belgium that morning. Karen noted that we were charged by both the number of people, number of tents we had, and number of motorcycles we had. When we arrived at the campsite it looked as if it as unattended (being a Monday I guess) and I was going to squeeze the bike between the hedges and the office (rather than squeezing under the barrier gates) but just as I started to push through the gap a voice boomed out over a loud speaker (in German so we couldn’t understand what was being said) but we gathered that they had seen us on their cctv cameras and were impressed with our problem-solving efforts. We tracked down the owner of the booming voice and the hostess – Karen by name – helped sort us out.
After rising we went into town, where we discovered Belgians don’t have the kind of breakfast we have become accustomed to….waffles were the only thing likely but we settled for Ham, Cheese and Tomatoe toasted bagels that arrived slightly askew – One Cheese and Ham and one Cheese and Tomatoe! I guess that’s what happens when you don’t speak Flemish!
After breakfast we headed straight to Dozenham, where Vince has a relative buried, who was only 21 when he died. The cemetery was shielded from the road by a forest of trees and was a beautiful and peaceful place to visit. We found the grave without difficulty and spent a good half hour there. Vince signed the visitors book and we looked in the register that showed his relative.
We returned to the Jaeger Stadiom Campground and parked the bike. I spotted lots of people heading to town carrying fold up chairs so we took our Helinox chairs with us and we’re very glad we did! It was only 1.00pm and the parade didn’t start until three but people were already well in position along the route. We made our way to town centre and managed to get a spot right against a barrier and could see down the road to the Menin Gate. We had a bit of a wait and I spent our last 5 Euro cash on 2 diet cokes, Vince wanted to try the dried fish but the bank teller machine would not take our cards! We enjoyed the parade which lasted about two hours. We then went to the clock tower to watch the cat throwing (not real ones of course!). Thousands of people filled the square hoping to catch a toy cat thrown from the clock tower by a man dressed as a jester. Many people were dressed as cats, wearing cat ears, face painting and cool stockings that had black bottoms with cat faces just above the knee and at the back cat tails! It was cat madness! Many International tourist were there…particularly Asian people were celebrating this triennial event.
We then went and had dinner followed by going to see the burning of the witch. On our way home we arrived at the Menin Gate and again listened to the last post. We met an English couple, Angie and Steve, who have travelled to a lot of the WWI and WWII sites. The last post is played every night at 8.00pm and has done since the end of the war.
We had a few chores to complete before setting off on our European Adventure …collect the sleeping bag and Vince’s liners for his riding pants from the Drycleaner and Alterations place….have breakfast at the local cafe (Eggs Hollandaise)…top up our fuel and make our way to Vines Guildford to pick up a replacement bolt and circlip which came off somewhere in Wales. Keith Ackroyd fitted them for us ….he’s very found of the Animal. Whilst this was going on I was approached by a father and young son who were fascinated by the ANIMAL and I gave the young boy one of our stickers. We scooted down the M25 towards Folkestone and a few miles short it started to rain so we pulled off and put on our wet weather gear wishing to avoid another drenching!
Arriving early, checking in at Eurotunnel was simple and we were able to take advantage of their offer to take a train two hours ahead of schedule (2.20pm) at no additional cost (saving us around 40 pounds) – Bonus! At passport control we told the Inspector we were Australians and followed that up with a rousing rendition of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi …when we told him we are travelling home on the bike his response was “You’re Crazy!” and he waved us through without us even needing to show our passports. We boarded the “Johnathon Linton” along with other vehicles including a motorbike belonging to Chris and Dave …a lovely English couple whom we chatted to on the half hour journey. Vince was approached by Jocke, a Fin, he and his fiancé have BMW F800s and dream of doing what we are doing but with two bikes. He saw the ANIMAL on the platform, Googled our website from our stickers and came down for a chat. He is a HU member and asked to take our photo to put up onto the HU Facebook page (which he later emailed to us – very kind). The journey was uneventful and although getting off was a bit slippery it was all good!
In Callais we stopped at the first petrol station so Vince could get his bearings and program the GPS. We were also hungry as we hadn’t had lunch and it was a bit after 3.00pm but all we could find were coke and mars bars – the riders staple diet! A tour bus had also stopped and we found ourselves swamped by Indian tourists from Mumbai. Photo’s, handshakes and a million questions all at once! The ANIMAL sure attracts attention wherever she goes and we were treated like superstars.
We made our way to Ypes ( pronounce Ips) via Dunkirk and the cross winds were ferocious at times. We slipped across the boarder into Belgium without fanfare – as the boarder was unmanned. We made our way to the Jaeger Stadion Campsite passing many Military cemeteries and tiny chapels along the way. At the campsite the sign on the barrier gate said full! The Manager however, was able to point us to the tent area where there was still some space and it only cost us 11 Euros – another Bargain! Ammenities were more than adequate with toilets, showers and a wash up kitchen area. We quickly pitched our tent and made our way on foot into town (10 minutes) along a country path that passed through two gates either side of a cow (with horns!) paddock….In town we quickly realised that we had arrived the day after VE Day (8th May) and celebrations were still in progress with Military bands playing, a music concert and fireworks. In contrast, everywhere you looked there were things to do with cats …posters, paper mâché models, sculptures, toys, chocolates etc and people dressed up as cats, wearing ears and face painting. I asked one of the shopkeepers, Karol, what it was all about and he explained that tomorrow would be the 44th Kattenstoet where the town celebrates the history of cats being brought in to solve a mouse infestation and then they became a problem and were thrown from the clocktower. We subsequently found out they also celebrate burning witches….this is all reenacted throughout the day. We decided to stay an extra day here so we could see it.
Walking back to our campground after dinner, we stopped at the Menin Gate and listened to the Last Post. Through the city arch and across the moat we were stopped by the Town Cryer and his friends, they insisted we stop whilst they proclaimed the opening of the festival….so entering into the spirit of things, we did!