Last week I was in Athens for a travel blogger conference. Am I a blogger? No. Or rather, I wasn’t until today! What better inspiration to start a blog than to meet hundreds of world travellers who write about their motivational stories?
My friends have been begging me (OK, that’s a slight exaggeration) to start a blog for ages because they enjoy my stories. Why didn’t I? I’ve been focused on getting my business, Wondrous Wanders, up and running. And precisely because I love writing and telling stories, I knew there was a significant risk that I would get distracted from business with blogging. Which is a challenge in itself because in the travel and tourism world, sometimes it’s a chicken-and-egg story with bloggers and their businesses: which comes first? In my case, the business had to. I wanted to have ‘products on the shelf’, so to speak, when I started blogging so that people would have the option to try out the experiences I’d be writing about.
So what’s a Wondrous Wander, you ask?
A Wondrous Wander is a walk or event of discovery, of revelation… a meander with open eyes and mind through Brussels, elsewhere in Belgium, or further afield. It can take a couple of hours or a full day. It’s about finding hidden gems, inspiring images & intriguing anecdotes. My ‘tools of the trade’ are my red walking shoes, my camera, my passion, my curiosity, my pen, my notebook and usually a map, just in case.
Here’s how I define a Wondrous Wander…
Wondrous: the look of happy surprise on peoples’ faces at a new discovery. Wander: walking with a goal in mind, but being flexible enough to take the fork in the road if it looks more promising.
So, put it all together and Wondrous Wanders challenges you to look at places, people and things in a new way, see them through new eyes and, hopefully, with a new appreciation. It’s as if Bilyana, a tourism industry intern, read my mind when she wrote in her blog: “All of us managed to feel the magnificent spirit of Brussels by seeing things differently. All of us learnt so much about the city itself but also about ourselves.”
As far as my business goes I wander accompanied by small, intimate groups where I can create conversations and connections. Or I can bring people along on an exploration, a wander through a specific topic of interest…say, photography or wine. For the purposes of my blog, I can wander either accompanied or alone…I can wander through places or ideas with my feet or just my mind.
Will you enjoy my wondrous type of wander?
I’m focused on enticing expats living in Brussels and visitors to the city to see another side of a place they often consider kind of boring and not too attractive. I’m out to prove them wrong by unravelling the mysteries of Brussels while following the remains of the 13th century first city wall. Astrid, an enthusiastic expat commented: “Wendy made me see things I hadn’t seen in all these years — I completely rediscovered Brussels!” Wouldn’t you get a kick out of knowing you could do this for people?
I’ve also got some surprises up my sleeve for chocoholics – after all, Brussels is the capital of chocolate (no matter what the Swiss say!). To prove it, Brussels airport sells more chocolate than anywhere else in the world! I also create one-of-a-kind experiences for companies who are looking for unique team building opportunities or new ways to entertain visiting executives and their partners.
And for those who like a bit of emotive history mixed with their storytelling, a World War One Wander through northern France and Flanders fields in a small, private coach is a moving way to experience the stories of men and women from 100 years ago, standing on the very ground where so many thousands lived and died for their country in circumstances that are hard to imagine today.
Hopefully, I’ve made you a little curious, maybe inspired you to look a little deeper when you think of Brussels and Belgium. I hope you’ll join me on future blog wanders (hmm, would this be considered a bwog?). This may be the capital of Europe, but it’s the people, the culture, the history – and most importantly, the quirkiness — that make it such a wondrous place to live and wander!
As we approach Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, or any term you use to describe the day that commemorates the end of the First World War at 11:00 on 11/11 1918, and those who have fought (and are still fighting) in all wars, I’m looking back at my own journey of learning about the Great War and why it has become so meaningful to me.
Why do I say I was a reluctant WWI enthusiast?
Visiting Ieper, Ypres, or Wipers as the Brits called it during the war (Ieper is the Flemish spelling, Ypres is French) and the surrounding cemeteries were on my bucket list for years because living in Belgium made it almost a moral obligation.
But somehow all those fields of white crosses and green grass seemed too sanitised, too proper, knowing the muddy hell so many thousands of men lived and died in. I thought it was verging on disrespectful to transform such an awful war into such a neat and tidy package for remembrance after the fact.
When I got around to organising a trip to the Ieper / Ypres area, I discovered how very, very wrong my impression had been. I wasn’t reluctant any more… in fact, I was sorry I had waited so long.
The very first cemetery I visited was Sanctuary Wood. How apt a name: it really felt like a sanctuary. There was absolutely no one in sight when I arrived in this peaceful oasis in the middle of farm and woodland and saw, for the first time, the message from the Belgian people that is prominently placed at the entry to every single commonwealth cemetery.
Reading it brought tears to my eyes. And I soon discovered I’d be in a heightened emotional state for the whole four days.
I had decided to focus on visiting sites of importance to Canadians, given my Canadian heritage.
And, although I wasn’t searching for graves of relatives (the only one I know to have died as a result of the war was my great-uncle whose lungs were ruined by mustard gas, but he died back at home in Toronto), I wanted to honour the men who came from the country I will always call home (even though I’m also a Belgian citizen).
I drove to many evocative monuments and cemeteries, like Vancouver Corner in St. Julien with its stirring statue of the Brooding Soldier who commemorates over 2,000 Canadian soldiers who died in the first large-scale gas attack of the war in April 1915.
But Sanctuary Wood will always have a special place in my heart because it’s where I learned about the special messages from family members to the deceased soldiers. I was down on the ground taking a photo (as you do) when I looked at a headstone near me and saw this message:
When I started looking for others, I found them all around me. And no one can keep a dry eye when reading the last known words of any family to their dead husband, father, son or brother. Especially when you know that they had to pay for every letter that was carved in the stone, and some of them could ill afford the lengthy messages they left.
I now have a collection of headstone messages from each WWI cemetery I’ve visited.
Why are these messages so important to me?
Because that was the moment the First World War took on meaning for me. I connected with the emotions of the human stories, the people who lived, died, grieved and remembered.
The mother who asked people of a foreign country to watch over her son’s grave because she would never be able to visit him, the daughter who would never see her father again because he was shot for treason for wanting to leave a futile muddy battle and return home, the young boys who would never become men, the women back home — like my two great-aunts — who would never marry, because there weren’t enough men of their generation left alive.
The war became a series of stories for me and it’s stories that drive my interest in any subject.
So although I’ll never be a military enthusiast, I will always be interested in war because war is, after all, a series of human stories linked together to give us context on how one person, a family, a community, a cultural group or an entire nation is torn apart and impacted for generations.
I’ve become passionate about WWI and will share more of my photos and fascinating facts with you over the coming weeks.
We, especially those of us living in Belgium, owe it to the men and women who gave their lives to visit the sites that honour them.
Tuesday is Remembrance Day. If you aren’t already a WWI buff, isn’t it time you became one?
You can get a head start by downloading my WWI Factoids eBooks:
Top 12 WWI Factoids for Canadians:
Top 12 WWI Factoids for the UK & Ireland:
Even if you’re not from one of these countries, you’re sure to find the information a fascinating and fun way to start conversations about the Great War with your family, friends and colleagues.Read More
Wondrous Wanders is a unique way to touch, feel and discover Brussels and Belgium!
One of my passions, the one closest to my heart, is to help people discover Brussels and Belgium; to see the country, its culture and people through new eyes, with a new perception.
Wondrous Wanders brings this vision to life through a series of themed discovery walks and excursions. Come and join me!Read More
There’s a whole world to discover on the doorstep of Brussels. Did you know Belgium has over 3,000 castles? The highest density of castles per square km in the world! Along with abbeys where centuries old beer-making traditions are still upheld…
Take a Wondrous Wander and discover these marvels, plus cliff-top forts, beautiful gardens, river cruises, battlefields, cultural events, museums, and friendly people!