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small Hotel guest lounge & garden

In Flanders fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

 

John McCrae’s poem ­has led visitors to Flanders fields, for remembrance and healing, for those whose courageous ancestors survived or fell in World Wars I & II.

War museums and cemeteries, Menin Gate and the Last Post, whenever you find yourself in a mood of sorrow towards the end of a remembrance tour, make a final stop to visit Poperinge, a small town behind the Flanders fields, where you’ll find peace of mind as soldiers did century ago.

During the First World War, Poperinge was a place of camps and hospitals where soldiers came to rest and heal.

The town’s prewar population was about 12,000, but in 1917 there were 250,000 soldiers billeted in the area.

The National Tobacco Museum / Flanders Fields

Tobacco played a vital and subtle role in soldiers’ everyday life during wartime.  Soldiers who managed to survive the war often returned home as hardened smokers.

A shared smoke was a way of connecting in a disconnected world.

How did a humble cigarette become the soldiers’ friend? Was there always enough tobacco at the front? What were the most popular brands?

The National Tobacco Museum has all the answers.

Recour Hotel Poperinge

small _Hotel owner Paul Recour

Traditional and forward-thinking, Paul Recour and wife Paula are real Poperingenaars.

Family Recour finely restored a partially monumental tobacco trading house that dated from 1780 into Recour Hotel Poperinge with historic elevator, steep swirling staircase, original cranes and ropes all respectfully preserved.

I enjoyed very much the unique gin-based and hops strong liquor HOPsaKEI which Paul introduced to me. People visiting Poperinge in early spring would have the opportunity of tasting young hop shoots dishes in Restaurant Pegasus. Paul’s son Bert and daughter-in-law Inge are Executive Chef and Host of the hotel restaurant.

The foot bridge that links the hotel’s old main house to the new building is also a link between history and modernity. My room features SwissFrench architect/designer, pioneer of modern architecture Le Corbusier’s designed furniture is a bold success.

small Hotel bridge between two houses

Le Corbusier’s design concept is written on the wall:

Si le soleil entre dans la maison, il est un peu dans votre Coeur (If the sun enters home, it is a little in your heart.)

Out in the terrace, I have a wonderful view to historic Town Hall and Church.

 

The Town Hall

small Poperinge Town Hall

The 1911-built Poperinge Town Hall and ‘execution cells’ is steps away from Recour Hotel.

The Town Hall was used as a Divisional Headquarter during the War. The ‘execution cells’ in the courtyard were where some British soldiers, condemned to execution during the Great War, were kept awaiting their fate – to be shot at dawn.

I was astonished to read that a Chinese laborer named Wang Chun Chih convicted of murder was executed here on the 8th of May 1919 – after the Armistice but still during what was officially designated wartime.

The Hop Museum

If hop meant ‘hope’ to soldiers at war, then beer from hop was another way of connecting in a disconnected world.

Poperinge’s nutritious, permeable and moist soil makes it perfect to become the centre of hop growing and beer crafting in Belgium.

The Hop Museum has many interesting facts:

*Hop is a plant of the hemp family which comes in genders of male and female. Hop cones of the female variety contain lupulin, a yellow powder that gives beer its refined aroma and its preservation qualities.

*In spring, the crisp shoots are harvested, and when the plants are in bloom, the bittersweet fragrance of the full vines is almost overwhelming.

*In September, the hops are picked from the vines. This aromatic elixir contains all valuable elements and components of the Humulus lupulus and is particularly suited as aperitif or digestive.

*A hop plant has 12 to 20 years of productive life. The aboveground parts of the plant die back during the winter, but the root stocks survive. By early spring, shoots appear on the rootstocks.

British Royal Connection

Perhaps this lesser-known story of Poperinge helps visitors to understand more about the ‘little great town’.

Princess Diana’s great-grandmother was born in Reningelst, a village just outside Poperinge. The Bulteels were a local family who lived in the 16th century and forced to flee to England as religious refugees.

Louisa Emily Charlotte Bulteel (1828-1897), daughter of John Crocker Bulteel of Flete and Lyneham, married Edward Baring, who was then Director of the Bank of England. Her daughter, Margaret, married Charles Spencer, great-grandfather of Lady Diana Spencer, the late Princess of Wales.

 

To go

By train – OBB train using Eurail Pass  http://www.eurail.com/en/eurail-passes

To stay – Hotel Recour  http://hotelrecour.be/en/

To eat Restaurant Pegasus http://pegasusrestaurant.be/en/

To see –

The National Tobacco Museum / Flanders Fields

http://www.flandersfields.be/en/do/national-tobacco-museum

The Hop Museum

http://www.hopmuseum.be/en

The Town Hall

http://www.toerismepoperinge.be/en/town-hall

 

by Sindy Chan

chansindy.cd@gmail.com

Images by Troy Nam

Profile: View sindy's profile here

Email: sindy.chan@theaustraliatimes.com.au