Bruges had stayed my feet more than it should have, and the bus from Brussels was late, so I was left with not much time for Waterloo.
During 1h of bus ride, I barely saw any Belgian on streets. I wondered if it’d been Bonaparte’s fault.
It was a fine day, everything was brisk with sunlight, but I kinda wished it’d rained so that I could have seen the weather of the battle.
It was a coincidence that in the long ago past it’d been British tourists visiting Waterloo who discovered the neglected city of Bruges. I hadn’t know it when I planned the trip.
The view of the Lion’s Mound is pretty from the bus, but it had little to do with the battle itself. It was to commemorate the place where the Prince of Orange (of the Netherlands, who else) was hit by a bullet and fell off his horse during the battle. The poor guy didn’t even die: he lived on to reign the Netherlands for quite a few years, so there was no point in this mound, other than to disfigure the famous landscape and to put a Dutchie stamp on eternal memory. Wellington was quoted to have exclaimed “They have altered my field of battle!” when he revisited the location. While that might be another fantasy from Victor Hugo, I would have said exactly the same thing if I’d been the Duke.
I got off the bus at “Musée du Caillou” stop to visit Napoleon’s Last Headquarters and Museum. Kudos to the Belgian for keeping everything, as much as they could, the same as 200 years ago. At least, it was not them who burnt the farm down. The farmhouse, the garden and the water well were all in place. There were several authentic artifacts inside the museum, including the dining table of that morning 18 June. Simple sights such as the small ossuary feel really touching to me. It was hard to imagine the soldiers of the Garde Impériale who had camped in this tiny garden under the ominous rain. The statue of Napoleon is, however, not in the same mood.
I bought a Pass 1815 who covered this museum, the Orange Mound and everything else for less than 20 Euros (didn’t count what was included, because the Mound alone was quite expensive).
The bus passed by only once per hour, so I had to hurry my visit and left the Museum quite soon. From here, endless green field was rolling in front of me in wavely ridges: it seemed quite a beautiful region. Napoleon might have watched the same scenery that day when he departed from the farm, but his mind was elsewhere I guess.
I intended to see Hougoumont next, as it was on the way to the Mound, but I couldn’t find it: it was well-hidden behind ridges and trees. So I headed to the Mound instead. It took me quite a while to find the entrance since direction’s indication was not much available. Plus, for me, iron barring such a hill is a no-no. I literally ran to the top of the hill in a minute: I was in a rush, I had to return to Brussels, and to Paris, that day. And I didn’t want to show respect to the stairs of that artificial hill.
From the top I had a 360° view of the peaceful field, but Hougoumont’s walls were nowhere in sight. Inside the building, the huge panorama painting on the rotunda was quite impressive with reenactment sounds and stages. There are not many panorama paintings like that left worldwide, so we may enjoy it while it lasts.
After the Mound, I ran – again – to Hougoumont. There was a bus taking tourists to it, but I didn’t even have time for buses. I ran past people, mostly Europeans, and dogs. Many commemoration plaques had been erected along the way – bus people would miss them. It was surreal to see a plaque for the legendary cavalry charge two centuries ago on a modern beetroot field. Condolence flower wreaths had been left at some random places. The sunken Ohain road was still there, nowadays no more than a shallow wrinkle on the battlefield, thanks to the Lion’s Mound work. The upward slope from the French’s side to the Allied’s side was also much reduced, geez.
Hougoumont was brilliantly restored. You must watch the movie projection in the barn, words cannot describe it. The moment the high gates of the barn closed, light went out and the fanfare began, you’d feel as if you were trapped in that building and the French army was attacking outside, or as if you managed to break into the farm but then was enclosed again to a massacre, refering to The Closing Of The North Gates chapter. Depends on which side you are on.
I missed the bus I planned to return to Brussels. I took the second bus, it drove for 15 mins before breaking down on the road for some unknown reasons. The driver got off and restarted the bus several times. My clock was ticking. There was no one around, not even a taxi if I wanted to hail one. Luckily the bus did get back to work after a tiresome manoeuvre, and I arrived in Brussels when my Eurolines vessel was about to leave for Paris – I was the last passenger boarding. Phew. What a day.