I’m a history buff and should have realized it was 200 years ago during the winter of 1812 that Napoleon lost his Grand Army on the steppes of Russia. He captured Moscow but had to retreat as the Russians did not surrender. He lost half of his fighting men and was eventually defeated back in France. He escaped his first exile, returned to power shortly, and was finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815. We will probably hear more about Napoleon in the next few years.
One item of interest was a secret letter he had written requesting the Kremlin be destroyed before his forces left Moscow. That letter was recently auctioned for $243,000, bought by the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris. The same museum bought a 300 page manuscript written by Napoleon in his later exile on Saint Helena Island. The manuscript was purchased for almost half a million dollars.
I do not know where the letter or manuscript came from when it arrived at the auction house. However, I did get an answer to one of my questions: was Napoleon’s order carried out? Unfortunately, yes, the Kremlin was burned along with a lot of art work.
Speaking of history, I have heard very little about commemorating the War of 1812 fought here in America.
The older I get the more I value my happy memories. Some years I don’t have as many good memories as others, and it seems the years we traveled more bring back a host of good stories. My early years with the Air Force while stationed overseas was a good time in my life. Such times I have begun to treasure in my memory bank.
The year was 1980. My wife and I were recently stationed in Germany with the Air Force. After years of school and no money we were ready to travel. I told her one of the men at work told me we would enjoy visiting a small quaint town in Belgium called Brugge. We hopped in our little Opel Manta on a Friday morning and drove off. No kids yet, a little free time, and finally, we had a little bit of money. About a five to seven hour drive depending on how often we would stop.
The weather was beautiful all weekend. We stooped in Brussels on the way and walked the town square. Spent a little bit of time finding what we thought was a famous landmark called the Statue of Pis. It turned out to be a little dinky statue of a little boy relieving himself. I guess everyone that visits Brussels gets suckered into this silly tourist trap about a block off the main square.
We arrived in Brugge late in the afternoon. The window of our hotel room overlooked the cobblestone town square where several eateries awaited. The church on the square would chime hourly. I have always liked church bells although most of my life I have not lived near churches that have bells to ring. The first night we dined at an open air restaurant on the square. I enjoyed the clickity clack of the cobblestone as people walked or rode their bikes through town. I also delighted in sipping some delicious purple wine. I’m not much of a drinker so it doesn’t take much for me to get tipsy.
The next morning we took a short tourist boat ride down the canals of the small river that traversed through the little town. Brugge has an interesting past. It was the primary harbor for the area for centuries. In time the harbor filled in with silt and Antwerp replaced Brugge as the main harbor to Belgium. The architecture of the buildings reveals the various people who have ruled over the town for almost a millennium. In addition to its Flemish , it has been has been under the oversight of the Spanish, the English, the Dutch, and the French. The tour guide on the boat ride pointed out that each of these cultures may have been present in the area for centuries thereby leaving their influence.
Belgium is full of antique shops if that is your thing. We spent a few hours at a flea market that had some cool antiques. Some of it was really old. I was surprised at the significant amount of military paraphernalia such as helmets, canteens and so forth from both world wars.
For lunch we drove a short distance to an ocean side café with a cool breeze. What do you think we ordered?
b. Brussel sprouts
c. Belgium waffle
Well, you guessed it; a delicious waffle. By the way, I also like crepes, but will never like Brussel sprouts. That evening we dined at an Italian eatery nestled on the river within the town.
We left on a Sunday morning with unusually warm weather and stopped at a nearby American cemetery called Flanders Fields. I was a little intrigued with the place because while in high school I had given a brief oral report by a poem written by a soldier who was at Flanders Fields during the First World War. We had a wonderful visit. That afternoon we stopped at Waterloo. It has a decent little museum but the battlefield itself is gone. Our last stop of the day was a Bastogne, Belgium where the World War II Battle of the Bulge was fought. All three battlefields visited in one day and not rushed. It was a delightful trip and one of the ones we most fondly remember of our many while stationed in Germany.