And how is the tour, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Mind you, I am not by nature a tour bus kind of girl. In fact, if I’m traveling and I hear the door of a Greyhound open, I run as far away as I can. I have to say, though, in cases like this, a tour bus full of people who speak your language (Waterloo, not English) (although the English helps), helps make your trip more fun. Add to that experts in the field(we have a British ex-general who was deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, and a captain of the Welsh Fusiliers who’s been and done everything.), the sights you’re seeing become even more meaningful. I mean, how can you not love it when you’re sitting next to a nice little old lady who went on a Waterloo tour with Bernard Cornwell, or share time with a man who paints toy soldiers and shares them with friends. I’ve had discussions about Heyer, Sharpe, touring the peninsular battle sites, the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, and the socio-political ramifications of the war, the battle, and the players.
Today we spent most of the day studying the battles that led up to main scuffle at Waterloo; the conjoined battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras. The tour company had made up gorgeous booklets along with very detailed maps, pertinent paintings and concise commentary to go along with our walk. We strolled along the ridge above Ligny where the Prussians lined up, and considered the positions taken up by not only the various Prussians, but the French(Napoleon spent his time watching from atop an ancient barrow). We walked through almost full-grown fields of wheat and barley, which would have been comparable two hundred years ago, to see how it affected line of sight for everybody, and we walked through the narrow streets of Ligny itself, although only a few of the original buildings remained(Ligny was forever being overrun). And then, after lunch(at a place called the American Diner), we moved on to Quatre Bras. Again, spent our time considering the terrain from both points of view that helped us understand the decisions made. It was all quite lovely. (It’s even better when you have a British general describing the monument to the Belgian/Dutch troops under the Prince of Orange as a tribute to the troops who so bravely ran away). It was also great fun to be able to remind him that it was those selfsame troops, along with the grieving Brunswickers bring the body of their commander back, who scared the spit out of the civilians in Brussels. So far I’ve pretty much known everything they’ve been teaching, which makes me feel very proud (now if they only would have had a Waterloo category on Jeopardy!)
And then, after a dinner at Pierrepont(another place that had been on Napoleon’s wish list for conquering), we went to our first reenactment. I’ll do a complete blog on Belgian reenactments at the end of the trip, because they deserve at least one whole blog by themselves. Suffice it to say that they were masterful at organizing the coming and going of over 200,000 spectators and I don’t know how many reenactors. On the other hand, the entire spectacle would have been far more fascinating, if they had just done the commentary in not just French and Dutch, but ENGLISH. Who exactly did they expect would want to come see the reenactment of Britain walloping France in battle? Not only that, but we had tickets in the K sections of the grandstands. Great, we thought. Right in the middle.
Not so fast, tourists! Here is how the Belgians lettered their stands A-B-C-…….X-Y-W-V-U-T-S-R-Q-P-….. You get it. We were behind even the French cannons(which were very loud and impressive). The vast majority of the battle took place on the other side of the slope in front of us. NOT the best vantage point, although it was good for understanding why the generals wanted to be a bit away from the action to assess it. Oh, and one other thing that I have a sneaking suspicion didn’t actually happen in the original battle. In between the cannonade and the first cavalry charge, Napoleon came out with an escort of Imperial Guard and rode along the stands waving. And a good 10% of the people cheered back(the vast majority booed, which was pretty funny until you realized that there was probably nothing funny about Waterloo.
So more tomorrow. I’m crashing now. We had to walk over a mile each way, and most of it was uphill. At least I didn’t get lost. In the dark. With 200,000 of my closest friends.