Visiting Napoleon’s Waterloo in Belgium
Waterloo. What comes to your mind when you read this word? Unexpected defeat? The city of Canada? Or perhaps you’ll burst into song, complete with feelings: Waterloo – Couldn’t escape if I wanted to / Waterloo – Knowing my fate is to be with you / Waterloo – Finally facing my Waterloo.
I was certainly doing the latter with my friend K in Olen, Belgium, when, out of nowhere he suddenly told me about the Battle of Waterloo where Napoleon Bonaparte was finally defeated. I couldn’t believe my ears; I thought Napoleon fell in France, not in a small country like Belgium.
Obviously, I’m not a huge history fan, but given the chance of visiting a place like this, I would certainly take advantage of it. So I begged K to take me there. I was sick with cough and colds, and Belgium at that time (April 2012) was cold and rainy. But who could resist the chance of seeing the small town where Napoleon fell? Certainly not I!
(At that time, I was actually dreaming of another holiday altogether. I wanted to get out of the cold, and I thought that going to the Mediterranean would be a very good option. K and I could hire a car in Ibiza and just go around there, soaking up the sun and the festive atmosphere of this tropical island off Spain. Alas, it would turn out to remain just a dream forever.)
In any case, K agreed to take me to Waterloo the next day, and I absolutely loved the drive from Olen. Unlike in February when I first arrived in the country, gone were the snow-covered fields in the countryside. Everything was covered in green, and even the barren trees showed buds that promised hundreds of blooms later on. It made me sad to think that I would be leaving it in a few days’ time.
Waterloo is a really small town (pop.: 29,000+) in the province of Walloon Brabant. I would have wanted a chance to go around, but as it was raining, I had to make do with taking pictures from the car. We stopped in front of the church so that K could look at the map on how to go to The Butte du Lion (The Lion’s Mound) monument. Even from outside, it looked like a really nice church. What a pity were weren’t able to go inside.
Once we arrived in The Butte, the rain stopped. I could see the huge mound which marks part of the battlefield where hundreds of thousands of soldiers from European countries fought to prevent Napoleon Bonaparte from reaching Brussels. The mound itself was man-made (some sources said it was created by female factory workers) and took two years to finish.
Occasionally, the Battle of Waterloo is reenacted, and on those occasions, you would see hundreds upon hundreds of history enthusiasts in the battlefield, dressed up in uniforms, and completely equipped with rifles and other accessories of war, the field ringing with pistol shots and their shouts to bring down the enemy.
On regular days, though, it’s very peaceful there, with the enthusiasts climbing the 226 steps to the top where the bronze lion is for a wonderful view of what used to be the battlefield. However, I balked at the price (8 euros? never mind) and contented myself just by browsing in the Visitors Center. Aside from the usual tourist items, they also have beer (of course) and it’s a triple too! Unfortunately, K and I still had a case of beer in his home and decided not to buy another one.
Even though it’s a small country, Belgium has other battlefields too, like the one in Ypres (Ieper in Flemish) which took place in the World War I. It can be a bit depressing to think of all the lives lost in these fields, of the families broken, and of promises unfulfilled. But then again, without those battles, we probably won’t enjoy the freedom we have now.
You might like:
Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!