Once again, we were greeted by the sun when we woke up on Tuesday the 7th of September.
After our customary fruit and yogurt breakfast - we'd stocked up on fruit at the local supermarket after we'd returned from France on Monday - we repaired to our balcony, enjoying our morning coffee while making plans for the day.
The weather forecast kept insisting that we were in for another scorcher that day, which ruled out doing anything too taxing like uphill walking. Well, we'd already had our fair share of the latter in France the other day and we were definitely feeling the strain.
As luck would have it, there was a leaflet among our cottage's holiday brochures which immediately caught our eye. The castle domain in Zonnebeke, established on the site of a former Augustinian abbey (1072-1796), and incorporating the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917. A leafy walk and a chunk of World War I history sounded right up our street.
We wasted no time in packing a picnic, but before embarking on our 20-minute or so journey to Zonnebeke, let me show you what I was wearing first.
Making our way towards the cover of some trees, we passed the 8-metre-tall memorial honouring the role of New Zealand’s Māori in the First World War. The pou maumahara (memorial carving) was created over four years from 4500-year-old native New Zealand timber by master carvers, tutors and students from the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua, New Zealand.
Our leaflet contained a map indicating a 1,9 kilometer walking trail around the estate, and as it seemed to start at the museum and information centre, we walked into its direction. Both are located in a lake-fronted Normandy-style mansion which was built in 1922 to replace a castle bombarded into rubble during the war.
The faintest of alarm bells started going off in our heads when we couldn't find any signs and our fears were confirmed when the nice lady at the information desk informed us that the walk was indeed not signposted. You can't go wrong, she said. You can see the house at all times, she said. But we have a track record of getting lost, we said. I could see her smiling behind her mask.
We were supposed to pass in front of Villa Zonnedaele, which we could see shimmering between the trees beyond the gardens, so we made our way towards it with the intention to continue the walk from there. The villa, commissioned by the castle's owner for his eldest daughter in 1933, turned out to be another sad case of neglect.
After this false start, we resumed our walk, this time correctly passing all eight gardens, starting with the Belgian one, which you can see above.
The New Zealand garden (below, top left and bottom right) was my favourite, its centre piece a hollow concrete column, the scale of the door requiring visitors to bend low to enter, echoing the physical confinement of the battlefield trenches.
I was also enamoured by the swathes of Echinacea juxtaposed with the red picket fence at the Canadian garden (top right and bottom left).
Two of the gardens were laid out separately from the others, and were somewhat hidden by lush thickets of shrubs and trees, and it was here that we had another wobble. Eventually we arrived back at the chalet, err ... castle, where we searched out a shady bench to have our picnic on.
After the museum section, the tour continues with he unique Dugout Experience. As a visitor, you discover how the British went to live underground in 1917, an oppressive experience that creates a disconcerting picture of the miserable and claustrophobic living conditions at that time.
The final part of the museum constitutes a faithful reconstruction of German and British trenches, complete with original shelters.
After this almost physical ordeal we felt worn out, which wasn't at all aided by the relentless heat of the sun, as the temperature continued to flirt with the high twenties. We sat down on a bench on the museum's verandah to recover before returning to our sauna-like car and driving home to our mercifully cool cottage.
On Wednesday the 8th, the weather thermostat was turned up even higher, the mercury forecasted to reach a scorching 30°C.
Our walk in the woods turned out to be only a very brief one, as once again, in spite of the leaflet outlining the walk, it was not signposted.
The woodland paths were part of a 10,5 kilometer Käthe Kollwitz walk and indeed, her life and artwork ended up being the theme of the day, which continued with a visit to a museum dedicated to the artist in the nearby town of Koekelare.
In a unique former brewery setting, the Käthe Kollwitz Museum houses a collection of her original artwork.
Through these, one discovers how Käthe rebelled against war and poverty through her expressionist work.