Saturday, 31 December 2011

Cyclocross Holy Week in Zolder!

On the way home Boxing Day from our secret trip, the cyclocross World Cup race in Zolder (site of a F1 racing circuit and also the World Road Cycling Championships in 2002) was taking place, so we took the opportunity to get up-close and personal with the muddy festivities. I've written an article about Zolder for my website PezCycling News, so check it out to see how the top pros were lining up to get photos with the boys!
That's it for 2011 - Bonne Annee and see you in 2012!

Friday, 30 December 2011


We watched "Up" the other night and saw this carving of Russell the Wilderness Explorer and Mr. Frederiksen at a shop in downtown Brussels! And you can see it is 200 Euros! It was a really funny movie with some great lines. "Hello my name is Russell and I'm a Wilderness Explorer. How may I help you today? Can I help you cross the road?" "No!" "Can I help you cross your yard?" "No!" "Can I help you cross your porch?" "No!" "Well I have to help you with something!" "No!"

Daddy's note: Jacob wouldn't stop saying Russell's line above there for three straight days after the movie!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Albert Joseph Buhlman

For the first stop on our top secret road trip, we left on Saturday morning and drove to Holten, Netherlands. It is a small town with an adjacent National Forest and within the forest is the Canadian War Memorial Cemetery. There are approximately 1400 Canadian Soldiers buried here and there is a recently opened (Sep 2011) Visitors Centre. Earlier on this trip, we learned that I have a great-uncle, Albert Joseph Buhlman who is buried here. 

At Juno Beach, we found information about his burial plot and at the British Grenadiers shop in Iepers, we found out that every year on Christmas Eve, the town holds a candlelight ceremony in which the school children of the town place candles in front of all the graves. Secretively, Stephen arranged the surprise trip so that we could attend the candle ceremony. He had actually contacted the organizer (Roland Cornelissen) and arranged for us to participate in the ceremony. 
We arrived early in the afternoon and were able to find the grave of A.J. Buhlman (Albert Joseph), He was a member of the Governor General's Foot Guards in the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and was killed in action on April 28/1945 when he was 21 years old. The information at the center lists his place of death as unknown, but it would have been in northern Holland or Germany if he was buried here. Albert came from a family of 5 boys and 2 girls (my grandmother). 2 of his brothers are still alive, one in the UK. and the other in Dundas, Ontario. 

The ceremony was attended by hundreds of townspeople and the children of the town. In addition, the ambassador from Canada to the Netherlands was there as well as Canadian soldiers from NATO and the Canadian base in Germany.  After a few words of introduction by Roland and the Canadian ambassador, they called Zachary and Jacob and I to come forward and place the first candle on Albert Buhlman’s grave. This was followed by all the school children placing candles in front of all the 1400 graves.

I was very surprised that Stephen had arranged with the organizers for our participation. He even arranged for our friends Eric and Astrid and their children, Dorien and Jacco to come and join us there. After the ceremony, we all went for pancake buffet at Woody’s restaurant. The boys were even impressed that Stephen arranged for the ambassador to eat there as well. After eating too many pancakes, we went back to see the cemetery in the dark with all the candles glowing. Many others had come back as well and it was a moving experience.

It is amazing that the Dutch people take such good care of the cemeteries of the Canadian soldiers and they are passing this tradition on to their children. We met one couple in the afternoon and he was 62 and remembers placing candles there when he was 10 years old. Other women recalled coming to the ceremony every Christmas Eve since they were children.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Euro Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all from our clan to yours! We did our presents on Dec 23, as I'm stealing the family off on a top-secret trip over Christmas. Where are we going? Who knows, including them! But check back next week to find out! BTW, what kind of a crazy continent are we living in? We can't find any eggnog over here!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Vimy Monument

The Vimy Monument was made after the Battle of Vimy Ridge as a monument to the Canadian soldiers who fought there.  The area of Vimy Ridge was important because from the hill, you could see all the way to Belgium, so if the enemy didn't want the Allies to see them, they would have to go very far back.

The Germans had taken control of Vimy Ridge in 1914. The British and French had both tried to take Vimy Ridge back from the Germans and had failed. The French had lost 150,000 men in the battles around Vimy and the neighbouring town of Arras.

This was the first time that Canadian divisions had fought together as a unit. There were 4 divisions. The British had already made a lot of tunnels and trenches. The Canadians were attacking along a line 6 km long supported on the sides by British and French soldiers. They planned the battle for a snowy day so the visibility would be worse. The Canadians were lucky that the snow was blowing towards the Germans. Also they were more used to the cold. The battle started at 5:30 AM on Easter Monday April 9, 1917 and by April 12 they had succeeded in taking back the whole ridge.

After the war the Canadian Battlefield Memorial Commission was set up to create monuments to remember Canada's part in the war.  There are 5 monuments in France and 3 in Belgium with the largest at Vimy. There was a contest for the best design. There were 160 entries from which 17 were selected to build a model, from which the winner was chosen. The winning design was by Walter Seymour Allward from Toronto.

The stone used was limestone that came from Croatia. It was very difficult to figure out how to transport the huge blocks. Construction started in 1925 and lasted for 11 years. The base of the monument is 7 meters high and is made of huge blocks of limestone with stairs at the front and back. There are 2 big vertical columns that are 30 meters tall. Around the base and at the top of the columns are 20 carvings of figures representing hope, peace, courage, valor, grieving parents and some others.

Around the base, there are 11,285 names of soldiers who were thought to have died in France but whose bodies weren't recovered or identified. There are also 7,000 more name of missing Canadian soldiers on the Menin Memorial (Commonwealth) in Ieper. Those were the soldiers who were thought to have died in Belgium.

During WWII, there was great concern about the state of the memorial when the Germans were occupying France. Apparently, Adolph Hitler took a picture in front of the monument and sent it to the Allies to show it was unharmed.

The monument was restored in 2005 - 2007 and all the names were engraved again, so they can be easily read. It reopened again in 2007.

The Vimy Monument was very impressive and a moving reminder of all the Canadian soldiers who fought during WW I.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Runners versus Pigeons!

Vimy was the spot where the two fronts were the closest in all the war, the German trenches and the Allied Trenches were only 25m apart. Down in the tunnels there were small rooms for the officers, planning, and the Runners quarters. there were 4 ways  of communication: telephone, telegraph, pigeons, and runners. The telephone and telegraph weren't good because they made noise that the Germans might hear and the wires often got blown up. Pigeons worked most of the time, but you couldn't really control where they flew to and the messages might go to the wrong person or even to the enemy. Below on the right are telegraph mountings.

That left runners as the best system for much of the entire war. You had a great life as a runner: you got to live and sleep in the relative safety and comfort in the tunnels, with an actual bed! The pay was also 6 times a normal soldier salary! The downside is that you wore a white armband to let your side know you're a runner and not to shoot you. But that also didn't stop you from getting accidentally shot anyway. Worse, you were the favourite target for the enemy side to shoot or capture (your message was in code, so you wouldn't know what it meant). It's so bad that your life expectancy can be as low as 3-4 days.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Trenches of Vimy

The trenches were where all the soldiers stayed during the battle. The walls were made of sandbags filled with dirt. On the floor, there were "duck-boards" to help them stay out of the mud, but it was still very wet and muddy there. They would sleep in spaces in the wall that were a little wider. It was always a challenge to keep all their equipment dry. There were even rats in the trenches. At Vimy, the trenches were the closest together of anywhere along the battle lines. At some spots, there was only 25 m across "no man's land". You could almost play "rock, paper, scissors" with the enemy.

This is not a golf course, but part of no-man's land between the Allies and Germans. These are from all the craters from the bombing. It is all fenced off still because of bombs and shrapnel keep appearing. Now imagine living in these trenches all the time when 1916 and 1917 were some of the rainiest years of the whole century.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Bayeux Tapestry - now THAT'S a cross-stitch!

The Bayeux Tapestry is a big 70 m long tapestry that was embroidered in the 11th century. It tells the story of how King Edward II of England sends Harold to Normandy to tell William, Duke of Normandy that he will succeed King Edward when he dies. When Harold returns to England, Edward is dying and Harold convinces the people to crown him king instead. When William hears of this, he gets together a big army and comes to England. The battle is called the Battle of Hastings and Harold is killed. William becomes the King of England and is known as William the Conqueror. That's a rainy night shot of the cathedral in Bayeux.

The tapestry is over 900 years old. It is over 70 metres long on linen cloth. It uses 10 colours of woolen thread and 4 different stitches. It has over 600 embroidered people, 200 horses, 40 ships and hundreds of animals and mythological creatures.
When it was made, it told a story, full of twists and turns, spies and heroes, to people who might not be able to read. So it's one of the first comic books in history! The Bayeux Tapestry is listed in the UNESCO "Memory of the World" register. I thought it was very interesting and colorful and it is amazing that it has lasted for over 900 years and is still in such good condition. There's no photography allowed in the actual tapestry room, but these are other tapestries there that were made recently in a similar style.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Caen Memorial

Monday was the rainiest day on our trip to France; it was very wonderful weather  (if you happened to be a duck). So it was a perfect museum day. We spent 5 hours at the Caen Memorial and then drove to see the Bayeux tapestry.

The Caen Memorial is a WWII museum built by France that "tells the whole story" of WWII, rather than just focusing on battles. It starts after WWI with the treaty of Versailles, talks about economic collapse in Germany and Hitler coming to power, Mussolini in Italy, Hitler taking over Austria and Czechoslovakia. Then to USSR/Germany attacking Poland leading Britain and France to enter the war. There were sections on the treatment of Jews, the lives of the soldiers, weapons, and resistance fighters. There was also a lot on how the people of France dealt with the German occupation. Some were for working with the Germans while some fought against it.
There was a film about the D-Day invasion of Normandy; on the right it had video from the German side and on the left video from the Allied side. Twenty-one men were tried at the Nuremburg war crime trials and a video about that played. On the right are propaganda posters from different countries.

Caen Memorial Website

On the other side of the museum, there were displays about after WWII. There were photos of the bombed cities like Caen. It talked about the Cold War between the USA and the USSR. It also talked about how Germany was divided in half by Communism. there was a big concrete wall between East Berlin and West Berlin that was 160km long. It prevented people travelling from East to West Berlin. The Berlin Wall finally was taken down in 1989 and there are two pieces of it at the Caen Memorial.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Jacob's Amazing Memory

Wow, Jacob just blows me away with his amazing memory. Two examples:
1. While walking around the rider pits at the GP Hasselt cyclocross race last month, out of the blue he says, "Hey, Stybar and Bart Wellens have the same watch as you!" This was in reference to my Polar RS800CX watch, which I got back in early 2009 and hadn't really worn regularly since probably mid 2010. It wasn't as if we were talking about watches, looking closely at the riders watches, or anything like that!
2. This week, I was talking about a paper that Geoff and I are revising, and how I had the original idea for it while hanging out at Geoff's apartment. Jacob instantly says, "You mean the time that Geoff shot himself in the foot?" Turns out that was in reference to the one or two times that I brought Jacob with me to Geoff's apartment while Zachary was at gymnastics, back in early 2009. Jacob and I taught Geoff the card game "Skip-Bo" and Geoff had messed up one key move. So that was one card game from when he was 6.5 years old!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Bless Liege

A quick note to let friends and family know that we're OK here in Brussels, but completely shocked and dismayed by what happened yesterday in Liege. Despite the tremendous fun and joy that we've had on our trip to date, I can't help thinking how ugliness and tragedy seems to follow us around like a dark cloud just lurking on the peripheries. First it was the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver while we were there in June, then the Greek riots just days before our arrival in July, followed by the Norwegian massacre days before our arrival in late July. Now this.
I'm posting this picture of Grand Place in Brussels not to make light of what happened in Liege, but to show that there remains beauty and grace in this world.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The British Grenadiers Shop

When we were walking on the streets of Ypres after trying to find the John MacCrae site, we found The British Grenadiers shop on the main street near Menin Gate. There were old ignitor shells from the artillery (solid brass and VERY heavy!), shell casings and bits of shrapnel that were found on the battlefields.The owners name was Steve Douglas and, surprise! - he is from Kitchener - Waterloo, Ontario! He had lots of books and videos in the shop. There was also a machine gun, old rifles and helmets from WWI. Here you can see us trying them on.

Mr. Douglas was very nice, helping us with directions to the MacCrae site and also telling us where "Private Peaceful" was buried nearby at Bedford House Cemetery. That's a novel that Zachary, Daddy, and Mommy had all just read, by the same author as "War Horse," and seeing the name inspired the writer to write the book.
Mr. Douglas came to Belgium to work on the Maple Leaf Legacy project. It is an internet site trying to link pictures of Canadian soldiers and their grave sites all around the world with a biography so there is a permanent record for future generations. We found out that there are even Canadian soldiers buried in northern and far-eastern Russia! The logo for the Maple Leaf Legacy is taken from the maple leaf graffiti in the Vimy tunnels I wrote about before.
The first snow of the year! Actually, it's snow scrapings from the outdoor rink they have set up in the main square in Ypres.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Cool Alleys

The coolest things usually aren't found along the big, busy freeways or well-manicured main streets. That's true for scenery and also for life in general, not to mention science! Instead, fun, joy and adventure happen unexpectedly when you stop and ponder the interesting detours and alleys you can go down.

On the left is an alleyway near the castle of Guillaume le Conquerant (William the Conqueror) in Caen (you can see it up high in the background). I love the green moss on the completely wavy cobblestones. On the right is an alleyway in Envermeu next to the big cathedral and the monument to their war dead and the prisoners from the Dieppe raid. I loved the play of weak sun on the wet cobblestones, along with the jumble of buildings and angles in both pics.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Maple Leaf Forever

Last tuesday we went to Vimy Ridge and took a tour of the tunnels used in ww1. There are 13 tunnels extending for 10 km all together. they had to dig very quietly so they couldn't use explosives. The rock was soft chalk but it was white so they couldn't pile it up outside. They put it into sandbags and shipped them back from the front line and buried it so the enemy airplanes couldn't spot piles of chalk. The tunnels go 8 m down out of range of exploding shells up above.

Above is a very famous piece of graffiti. It's a maple leaf carved by an unknown soldier, and the only piece of graffiti found in the tunnels. Remember that this was well before the Maple Leaf flag became official in 1965, but it already shows how important a symbol it is for Canadians. Vimy Ridge battle went from April 9-12, 1917, with the Canadians capturing a ridge that the Germans had held since 1914.

Tunnel for 500 waiting Black Watch
Before the battle of Vimy Ridge the soldiers had to wait down in the tunnels without food or water, in the dark and without talking. We saw the area where 500 Princess Pats Light Infantry were crowded, and another tunnel to where the Black Watch were stuffed into. They couldn't sit down because it was all water and mud and there were rats the size of house cats. Originally, they were only supposed to wait 12 hours but April 8 was a sunny day. the next day was a snowstorm (better for attacking) so they had to wait in the tunnels for 40 hours. The other really scary thing was that, as they were marching up to the front and the tunnels, they could see the support troops digging countless graves for the dead that were surely to come.

When it came time to attack, they had to climb out with their big packs, rifles, and ammunition, maybe 60 pounds of stuff! When they were restoring the tunnels, they found lots of stuff left over, including this old grenade and old bottles, tools, and other things.

Taking a look to the German trenches (where that electric fence line is) only 25 m away! Both the Canadian and the German trenches are preserved, and the whole park has lots of bumps from old trenches and bomb craters. They are all fenced off because there are still unexploded bombs and mines buried there.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

1300Km, 4 Days, and 3 Wars

Three wars: Abbaye aux Hommes, site of William the Conqueror's tomb in Caen; St. Julian's Monument, marking the site of Canada's fight during the first gas attacks of WW1; and the boys at Juno Beach, site of the Canadian landings in Normandy in WW2.
As you know from previous posts, we just returned from spending 4 days in Normandy, France. The overall theme of the trip was War Studies. We visited sites related to William the Conqueror - the Chateau in Caen, Abbaye des Hommes in Caen (where the last of his bones are buried) and the Bayeux Tapestry which tells the story of the battle of Hastings and his retrieval of the throne of England, usurped by King Harold. We also visited WW I remembrance sites - Vimy Monument, Vimy Centre with tunnels and trenches, the town of Ieper (Ypres) with the Menin Gate and the evening Last Post and the John MacCrae Memorial. We also spent a lot of time at the Caen Memorial to WW II and visited the German Cemetery, Omaha Beach and the American Cemetary, Arromanches Harbour and Juno Beach.

See more upcoming blogs about all of these amazing sites. We also looked up and found the description for my great-uncle Albert Joseph Buhlman, a tank crew who was killed in the last days of WW2 in Europe and buried in the Netherlands.