Mindful travel is very easy in Bruges, Belgium. Except if you only go for the beer and ignore the fact that most of it is 8%+ in alcohol content! You will be more mindless than mindful. However this is not a travel guide about their architecture, food, chocolate, Tintin, frites museum, canals, or horse and carriage tours.
About a 30-40 min drive away is the town of Ypres, pronounced “Wipers” by the British soldiers of WWI, many of whom never left that town or surrounding countryside. Some disappeared without trace ….. But are not forgotten thanks to the people of Belgium and their upkeep of cemeteries like the one at Tyne Cot. Visiting such a place categorises one as a mindful traveller ……. Or not!
Tyne Cot contains the remains of 11,900 allied soldiers from the first world war of whom 9,000 are British. In addition there are the names of 34,000 “missing” soldiers, inscribed on the Memorial Wall, who were killed in October 1917. Their names are carved here because they ran out of space on the Menin Gate Memorial for those killed and missing post October. Between July and November 1917 each side lost approximately 220,000 men, killed or missing. That’s an undisputed half a million human beings slaughtered in a very small area of Belgium. I make no political point in saying that this puts into perspective the public enquiries and press frenzy every time a single British soldier is killed in military operations in modern times.
It is absolutely impossible to stand at this place and not be mindful of these facts. The atmosphere oscillates between peaceful and eerie as the carefully placed speakers continuously and mournfully murmur the names of the deceased. The rows of headstones stretch into the distance, the numbers in each row defying basic counting …… there is no point, you just know there are thousands upon thousands, each representing a young man who did his best in the face of the utter horrors of trench warfare.