Postcard from...Brussels


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The Independent Online

Belgium has been sprucing up its cemeteries, renovating museums and churning out commemorative memorabilia as the centenary approaches next year of World War One, a four-year-long event which is expected to bring millions of new visitors to the nation.

Exactly where all the visitors are meant to park, however, is provoking some head-scratching in the town of Ypres. The site of many WWI battles hosts the Last Post at 8pm, when the bugle call sounds throughout the Menin Gate, as it has done every evening since 1928.

Visitor numbers are booming, even before the centenary officially starts, and today crowds will be larger than usual as Prince Philip attends the ceremony to mark Armistice Day.

“We are surprised by the big numbers of visitors,” local politician Jef Verschoore told  De Standaard newspaper last week. “Each day, we are seeing at least a dozen buses with tourists and on some days, we are welcoming some 1,000 visitors.”

This is causing traffic congestion and the Flanders News reported that cars may be banned from around the site during the ceremony, while others advocate barring vehicles permanently.

The BBC, meanwhile, reports that not all residents are happy with some of the businesses trying to cash-in on the centenary. “It makes me frown when I see souvenir shops selling poppy gin, poppy chocolates, poppy umbrellas and even chocolate helmets,” said tour guide Carl Ooghe. “It could offend some people and reflects negatively on the image of a town like Ypres.”