Brussels to De Panne

Trip Start Jun 22, 2012
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Trip End Aug 08, 2012


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Flag of Belgium  , West Flanders,
Tuesday, June 26, 2012

As a recap of the Beizer's journey to this point, they had been packed up for their annual vacation to Northern Belgium a couple days before the first bombs hit Brussels. After learning the Nazis had invaded Belgium, they changed plans and on May 11, 1940 left their home on 29 Rue de la Montagne and headed Northwest by bike.

And so the next stage of the journey began. I am writing this while on a train from De Panne back to Brussels and I just finished watching an interview that an uncle of mine did with my grandmother about her experience fleeing Europe and starting a new life in America. I hope to post parts of this interview to this blog once I return to the States, but due to technical constraints I'll just have to summarize for now. I learned many new things about the Beizer's journey in this interview. For one, the reason the family decided to head to De Panne (just East of Dunkirk) from Brussels was because when Germany invaded Belgium in WWI, they never reached De Panne, so the Beizers thought this point might be out of reach of the Nazis.

Unfortunately the two days my mom and I had allotted for the 140 km bike ride from Brussels to De Panne was not enough time (especially considering the only bikes we could rent looked, and rode, like they had been taken off the set of a Sound of Music production), so we finished the last leg by train. It was a great experience doing this ride while imagining what it was like for the Beizers 71 years ago. While there is no way to truly understand what it must have felt like for the Beizers to be fleeing their homes among thousands of other refugees with the threat of Stuka bombers always looming, the quintessential European landscape and old buildings conjured up images of what this journey must have been like. We crossed plenty of railroad tracks as well, and it's hard not to imagine what some of those must have been used for as well.

The Beizers spent an overnight on a farm on the way to De Panne, and my mom and I did the same in a small rural town called St. Lievens Esse. It was quite a different night than the Euro Cup crazed city of Brussels to say the least. For starters, the whole countryside was quiet. Life is a lot quieter as well, with agriculture seemingly a primary occupation. It seemed every house had flower boxes on all their windowsills and the landscape could have been out of a movie.

We biked from St. Lievens Esse to Gent this morning and took a train from Gent to De Panne. The best way I can describe De Panne is as Northern Belgium's equivalent of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in California. Very touristy, nice weather, overpriced food, and sunny beach. I suspect the scene was quite different in 1940.

As mentioned earlier, we are in transit by train back to Brussels where we'll spend the night and then take a train to Paris in the morning.

Au Revoir,

Elijah Jatovsky
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