We hadn't planned to go there this year, but as the weather on Tuesday turned out to be quite dismal, we decided the town was our best option. In fact, although the day was wrapped in a blanket of grey clouds, it mercifully remained dry, the first drops of rain only appearing on our windscreen on our way back.
I'd packed clothes for all occasions and, after wearing red and blue for two days in a row, I decided to switch to green. I chose a floral vintage dress which I charity shopped a couple of years ago, accessorizing it with a green belt, pink plastic flower brooch and turquoise beads.
I also added a green cardigan, with a red flower corsage, which you will get to see later.
As the persistent clouds held a promise of rain I wore my blue raincoat on top, pinning a crocheted cherry brooch from Oxfam on its collar.
There is free and unlimited parking at the town's railway station, and from there it's a straightforward ten minute walk to the town centre.
Our route into town passed the Fish Market, which is a cobbled square off the Boterstraat (Butter Street), reached through the Fish Gate decorated with Neptune, the god of the seas. This was originally built in 1714 but was rebuilt after being destroyed in the First World War.
In the market itself are two covered stalls and at the end is the old toll house, called Minckhuisje, where the fishmongers had to pay their tolls.
Continuing along the Boterstraat, we arrived at the Grote Markt (Market Square), where we were met by the sight of the impressive Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) with its 70 metre high belfry, which dominates the square.
During the First World War the building was completely destroyed except for a section of the tower and some walls.
As the town was at the centre of the whirlwind of the Great War, being in a precarious position wedged between fronts, it was quite literally wiped off the map by four years of shelling and trench warfare, and by the end of the war, there was hardly a building left standing.
The base of the belfry, the “Donkerpoort”, managed to survive. It is the passage under the belfry and dates back to about 1200, representing one of the very rare remnants of medieval Ypres.
A large German artillery shell is located in the passage. The shell is from a heavy gun called “Dicke Bertha” by the German Army and nicknamed in translation “Big Bertha” by the British.
Apart from the town hall and tourist office, the Lakenhalle also houses the haunting In Flanders Field museum, which we visited back in 2013 and which uses first-hand accounts and state-of-the-art techniques to tell the story and preserve the memory of the Great War.
Passing through the Donkerpoort, St. Martin's Church, which lies behind the Lakenhalle, is reached. This too was rebuilt after the war, but with a pointed spire instead of a square tower, adding considerably to its height.
The Lapidarium next to the cathedral contains the older ruins of St. Martin’s monastery and cloisters. One of the few remaining ruins in the town centre, the Lapidarium is a permanent reminder of the destruction caused by the First World War.
The Kloosterpoort (Cloister Gate), dating from about 1780, was one of the few structures which was not completely demolished by the end of the war. It was still standing while almost everything around it was reduced to piles of rubble.
Pranged between the Cloister Gate and St. Martin's church is the lavishly decorated theatre, dating from 1931.
We explored the area around the Market Square until it was time for lunch, which we had on a - admittedly covered and heated - terrace of one of the square's multitude of eateries.
Before we left the square, we went into the tourist office to pick up some leaflets. I also bought an enameled poppy brooch, which I'll be wearing in November. Then my eye was caught by this delightful poppy umbrella, which obviously I couldn't resist.
A visit to Ypres isn't complete if you haven't been to the Menin Gate, which was our next stop.
The largest memorial to the First World War, the Menin Gate is the spot where the Last Post has been sounded every evening at 8 o’clock since 1928.
This memorial in the form of a Roman triumphal arch, and designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, displays the names of 54,896 soldiers of the then British Empire who went missing in action. It lists the names from the beginning of the war until 15 August 1917.
Soldiers reported missing after 16 August 1917 until the end of the war are mentioned on panels at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Passchendaele.
One cannot be but moved by those interminable lists of names carved into the stone of the walls and the surrounding loggias. The many poppies and wooden crosses are testimony that the men behind those names are not forgotten.
In 1914 there was no building or formal gate as such, it was simply a crossing point over the moat and through the old town ramparts, through which the troops marched onto the roads leading into the battlefields of the Ypres Salient, many of them never to return.
I have yet to stand here without choking up, thinking of Siegfried Sassoon's bleak but fitting poem, On Passing the New Menin Gate:
Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
the unheroic dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?
The Menin Gate is right next to the town's ramparts and moat, which provide a green belt around the town. There is a delightful 2,6 kilometer walk along them which starts here and takes you all the way back to the station, in our case making it into a true circular walk.
Initially, the ramparts were little more than an earth wall with a moat. Later, stone walls and towers were added, until it was developed into a complex structure with bastions, advance redoubts, moats and walls.
Along the walk, you come across the small Ramparts Cemetery, lying on the banks of the moat.
Near the end of the walk, in the middle of the surrounding greenery, is Pacific Eiland (not a misspelling, it's the Flemish for island), a tearoom and restaurant on an actual island in the moat, which can be reached by a little bridge.
Here we sat down for a while at the moat's edge, looking back on a wonderful day, while enjoying yet another cup of cappuccino!
P.S. Back home, I tried out the umbrella, which surely must have been tempting fate!