as the floods move in

i'm so sorry if my last post gave the impression that i was home. i am very much still in europe.

there's a town in western belgium by the name of ieper. a relatively small town, it holds significance for it's role in the first world war. it was a massive battleground between france and germany--whose invasion dragged a previously neutral belgium [under british rule] into the war.

it started off as a somber day [my day, not the war]; overcast, rainy, and as windy as the floridian hurricane days. i was glad to get inside the warm, dark, and dry museum which [like most places] was built into an incredible castle-style building.

green. how fancy.

what's significant about this picture is not my first name [i'm sure you all were aware of that already] or even the row of unusual characters at the top. this was a machine available at the beginning where i could input my information [namely my language preference] and sync it to a hi-tech bracelet. then at each station i passed i could tap the bracelet and instead of yammering on in flemish, it'd kindly explain the exhibits in english. pretty handy for a non-flemish-speaking girl flyin' solo.

the exhibits were impressive, creative, and somber. 

and sometimes amusing.
 i'll be the first to admit that i'm terrible at remembering dates and facts about historical events. this museum was perfectly catered to people like me; it had all of the specific information, supplemented with personal stories of people who lived, suffered, and died during the war. there were artifacts, clothes, and heart-wrenching, hand-written postcards from soldiers to and from loved ones.

for the record, that was an overhead light, not a flash. not that it makes it any better.

those personal stories, those firsthand accounts of the trauma experienced--that stuff sticks with me. 

evidently this was the first war where toxic gasses were used. reading some of those accounts were absolutely horrific. i don't believe there's ever a time where tear gas has been pleasant, but i imagine it'd be even more traumatizing if you hadn't ever even heard of it. i can't fathom what confusion it must have been the first time a wave of soldiers were knocked down by these unknown, unseeable weapons. the museum displayed a timeline of the development of gas masks, and my heart ached for these people who were trying [and failing] to find a way to cope with this new danger and protect themselves from something so unexpected.

this part of the exhibit was a haunting and powerful piece. black and white pictures of soldiers who'd sustained casualties  were hung from the ceiling with lights illuminating from behind them. essentially, i was standing in a dark column, looking up at faces that had been permanently destroyed. it was chilling, yet beautiful. i think what was beautiful about it was that it did such an accurate job of bringing a solemn feeling over me, invoking respect for those who gave their lives fighting to defend their countries and their loved ones.

the most cleverly presented part of the exhibit was right at the end, as i was about to walk out. it was completely incapable of being photographed, so i'll do my best to describe it.

the display was set up as a series of mirrors; one on the floor and a few at different angles mounted on the walls. essentially what you had was an image being projected from the ceiling [again, this was all set up in a dark column] and passed down, mirror to mirror, until it reached the one on the floor. and this was the image:

it was a stunning presentation.

i started to exit the museum, backtracked up three steps, and took a picture of the stairs. it was probably just the appreciative mood i was in, but i was just so impressed that even the stairs seem grand and important.

i was thrilled to see that the rain had stopped and the wind had died. the sun had started setting and it was gorgeous outside.

 it was still incredibly, bone chillingly cold. i shoved my hands in the pocket of my too-thin jacket and fought against the wind all the way to the next war memorial. which was even more extraordinary.

this breathtaking, towering arch was built to commemorate a multitude of fallen soldiers from all over the world. the inside was filled with names of the deceased, which i'm certain is an incredibly incomplete list.

the sheer volume of names inscribed on the walls is mind blowing and humbling. every night after the sun sets someone comes out to play a version of taps. i'm glad that i don't live there. i think it'd be difficult to pay respects and remember the magnitude of the loss every time i casually passed through that arch, but i hope i'd want to. 

 the arch opens up onto a river, where i wanted to sit and think and write forever.

ieper was a weighty city to visit, but was so, so beautiful.

[title from explosions by ellie goulding]

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