Napoleon meets his match – Waterloo 2015


Dawn on June 20, 2015 – aka June 17, 1815

Last night’s battle didn’t go too badly – no clear winner of course – but the French troops managed to push the British line back almost to the edge of the battlefield. Aside from that one Scottish group (looked like Scots – could have been Russians) – we held firm and felt strong.

Today of course is another day.

There’s a change in the atmosphere in the camp – the soliders are being so nice to M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairmont! Do I have a seat, will I sit here – did I get my breakfast yet. Hey – do you think they are begining to see that I am not just a fancy outfit? Whatever – I’m relieved to feel the change – means I’m doing something ok.

Breakfast done – drill done – we are given the rest of the day off. The battle tonight will be epic – and we all realize it. Nerves are on edge – Justifably so I suppose. 200 years ago do you think the soliders were as nervous – they faced life or death, so I suppose they must have been worried. But they were so young – mostly 18 to 21 years old, did they think that what would happen that day would be so studied, so celebrated, so well remembered.
Our Major – Gilles – reminds us to be in battle dress and ready to assemble at 4:30 this afternoon. The battle won’t start till 8:00 pm – but we must march the 4.5 KM, then get into our formations.

Taking on my background role – interpreter – I go visit the Sutlers that have set up tents to sell their goods in the Allied camp, and near the battlefield. There are treasures galore – I score a new fan, and my partner finds a canteen. The weather is hot and humid, having enough water is going to be critical to the success or failure of the troops, and there are 120 men and women marching as Garde Imperial, not to mention the entire drum and fife core. I grab another 12 litres of water from the ‘canteen’ tent – and it’s a good thing too – he’s running low.

We gather at 4:30 – and ‘dinner’ is distributed – packages of dried apricots and bags of peanuts. I can appreciate the apricots – but why peanuts? M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairmont is going to have enough trouble keeping the troops hydrated and on their feet without them eating peanuts! Good thing that La Culiere was in charge for lunch. He started with canned ravoli – but with skillful addition of sauage and chopped onions, made it into something delicous. Not period correct of course – (ravoli for French troops?) although canning was invented by order of our Emperor – so that at least was right!

Not fed – but carrying what is going to have to pass for dinner – the troops are mustered and we march out. There are cheering townspeople everywhere! They yell out their support for us – many choosing to march along beside us for short periods. We spot the calvary – over 150 horses and their riders – ready for battle, and looking truly fine.

There are over 2500 French troops on hand for this fight – we’re one small cog in a huge machine – all focused on gaining another victory for our Emperor. He rides by – gaily waving his Bicorne. We are joined on the field by several of the higher officers – and in the distance I spot the rest of the medical core. They have come prepared for trouble, they have stretchers ready to take soliders off the field.

We are positioned at the far end of the battle field – on a slight hilltop overlooking 3 huge structures – mock-ups of La Haye Sainte (bravely defended by The Kings Legion), Hougoumont (which will be set on fire sometime during this battle), and on the far eastern side of the battle field – Papelotte. La Guarde Imperiale never gets near any of these – we stay well into the open areas of the battle field.

Massed in front of us are what we can see of the Allied armies – primarily British commanded by Wellington. Historically – many of them would have been hidden from view, but today they are very visible, and very scary. They stretch from one end of the huge battlefield to the other – a mass of red coats and artillery.

The start of the battle is signaled by the announcer – who plays O Fortuna from Carmia Barna. Excellent choice – as it tells of the raise and fall of man’s fortune. Perfect for this battle that set the stage for Europe as we know it today.

But we don’t have time to listen – Our Major has gotten orders – and they are communicated to the 4 divisions as a series of commands yelled out by each of our officiers. The artillary barage has begun – and we are stationed near two of the larger guns. The noise level is considerable, compounded by the pyrotecnics. To both our left and right there are now fires burning – officially the result of cannon fire from the Brits – but really the careful positioning of pyrotecnics.

It dawns on me that I don’t know where they have these stacks of fireworks hidden on the field – but one of the officiers takes a moment to explain to me that they are individually controlled and supervised. The big ones won’t go off if anyone is near by. That’s reassuring, I guess.

I’m just hoping that my position in the exact middle of the Guarde will keep me safe.

Our Major commands that we march forward – and soon we are going down hill thru rye that reaches to my waist. Underneath the rye are ridges and hallows caused by plowing the fields – and I’m having trouble keeping my feet underneath me. I stumble along – trying as best as I can to march – but honestly – it’s hard just to walk fast enough to keep up with the troop.

Form Square is suddenly called – and for the first and only time – we blow it! Our square has a front and a back – but there is no real middle. The space where I would normally stand is filled with the flag, officers in gold and gilt who have decided to march along with us, and the entire fife and drum core. I have no choice – I draw my epee – and try not to get trampled. The British calvary makes a valient effort to cut us down – but the bayonets are mounted – and all they can do is clash sword againt bayonet. We are not allowed to shoot at them when they are this close – it’s dangerous for the horses. And they are really really close. I can hear the horses heavy breathing as they gallop past. And the earth literally shakes.

Our calvary rides up – and there is a massive calvary battle – right outside our position.

The Brits and their Allies eventually retreat – we form lines and continue our advance, straight into the guns of the British line. We mount Bayonets – but the gunfire doesn’t cease, and the Major doesn’t tell us to charge. Instead we being an organized march backwards.

The Old Guard never retreats – but apparently marching backwards (you try that) is ok.

We reposition ourselves further to the right side and this time we attack the British line.

It’s so much fun – we pull back and do it again!

But our losses are beginning to mount up – there are literally piles of dead everywhere – and when next I peek out from behind the line – the other doctors have begun to check on the dead. I join them – using my wet white glove to cool down their heads. It’s hot work being dead – even at 9:45 at night. The wounded and dead thank me – and like a good doctor, I don’t steal their shoes. I leave that for the thieves and Camp Followers – I’m all about helping the injured.

One solider lifts his hat – and his hair – to receive my cool touch- and I wipe down his bald head.

Suddenly I hear ‘Charge!’ from behind me! Oh my goodness – the Prussians have entered the battle – and we are being attacked! I’m on the outside of the line – and in serious trouble. I bravely (ok – maybe not so bravely) desert the dead and dying to run towards the square that the remaining members of the Guard have formed to protect the Eagle and the Flag.

Let me IN!!!

I squeeze in – just in time to see La Culiere throw himself into the line of fire in an attempt to protect the flag. He falls – along with most of the line.

The next time the attacking Brits fire – I fall too.

Wellington rides in to claim the field for the English. We have officially lost. The battle is over. Napoleon has met his match.

…..

After the call to end the fight – the dead arise, and two of the old guard help me get back on my feet. Good thing too – I was lying there thinking – hmm, down wasn’t that hard – but I really don’t think I can get up my myself.

My apron is bloodied, most of my water bottles empty – and we still have the long march back to the Bivouac. Again I form a hitch hiking line up – flaging down cars to the amusement of the police acting as traffic control and fill them with soliders too tired and too sore to make the walk back. Eventually – it’s just me left – and when I flag down the last car – the police that are directly traffic give me a round of Appaluse!

Beer, Frits, Bed! No problem getting to sleep to night, I’m seriously sore – but glad I came.

The next morning I get the absolutely best compliment in the world. After Gilles, our Major, finishes his announcements – and thanks the North Americans in general – one of the Old Guard asks for M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairont to be brought in front of the ranks. The line parts, and I’m waved to the front.

He announces – We want to thank Leslie specifically – and the entire company gives me a Hip- Hip – Hurrah.

Tears in my eyes – I remind them to drink water!

As the men pack up to leave – each and every one comes over to personally thank me – and in many cases give me a hug.

M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clarimont – you done good!

Signing off – The soup Lady.

Re-enacting isn’t easy, People!


1 Historic Battle (broken into 2 parts), 4 days in the Bivouac, 300 horses, 100 cannon and 5000-6000 participants are needed to entertain the 200,000 spectators that have paid good money to watch us march, form squares, repel horseman slashing at us with sabres – and scream “Vive l’Empereur” at every opportunity. Oh – and learn a bit of history in the process.

It’s huge fun – and really hard work!

Day 1 – we must find the Bivouac of the Old Guard. I do wish that was as easy done as said – but we are running late, and can not just drive into the space. Already in uniform – Victor tosses me out onto the road with bags full of wine, sausauge, and other Bivouac necessities. His directions – find our tent in the Old guard camp. This would be a lot easier if I wasn’t weighed down with bottles of wine – and if there was only one Old Guard camp. Turns out there are 2 – and of course I first find the wrong one.

Fortunately – Victor is extremely well known – and by extension – so am I. It doesn’t take long for someone to realize I’m completely lost – and direct me (smattering of English, some French – bit of Russian) to the right camp.

Now – I just need to find our tent. I ask – and get sent in the wrong direction. The camp has grown significantly since Victor set up the tent 2 days ago – and it now huge. There are probably over 100 tents in the space – and finding our tent is not trival.

Just not a good start.

The Old Guard Bivouac is on a relatively hilly piece of ground, making finding a level spot to pitch a tent an issue – the good news – Victor was here early enough to score one of the flattest spots! Yeah, Victor.

There are the mandatory row of Port-o-Potties – plus a wonderful surprise – boy’s and girl’s hot showers! There’s even a portable Pissoir – with a sign indicating – only for guys! (It’s a sign with both a woman and a man, but the woman has a red ‘X’ through her!) There is also a ‘canteen’ of sorts – the organizers have promised a meal a day – and this is where we’ll be picking up our cans of peas and carrots, Ravoli, and spaggetti. Grand dining – I think not! I’m really happy that we brought some sausages from Crown and Queue and on my mental list is fruit – should I spot a salesperson.

There is one lonely water faucet – for the entire encampment. To deal with this lack, the organizers have seriously stocked up on .5 litre plastic water bottles. Knowing that 100 men will go thru 10 to 12 liters of water – per drill and per battle – I immediately stock up. I hate the waste of little bottles – but if that’s all that’s on offer – I’ll deal.

The Bivouac is open to the public – which means tourists snapping picture after picture of us trying to eat, trying to relax, trying to build a fire, trying to cook. One unmounted calvary man is sharing our space – and he has his Cuirass and saddle on display. The entire world marvels at it – I’ll bet it’s going to be featured in at least 100 home movies!

Things aren’t all rough however, just a short 1 minute walk away are a frite truck that sells bratwurst – and a waffle wagon. That plus the omni-present beer tent – and it’s camping – re-enactment style!

Our plans for the evening get changed drastially when we find out that Cirque d’Soleil has planned a sound and light show called “Inferno“. The price per ticket is huge – but in our uniforms – we’re free. That’s a great price – so a group of us gather to figure out two major things – how to get TO the show, and how to get HOME!

None of this is trivial – the organizers have a bus service of sorts that goes to the battle field (we’re 5 Km away – keep that in mind), but it stops at 5:00 – and the show starts at 10:00 PM. Humm. My new best friend Sophie suggests we hitch hike- and we all agree – why not!

It’s surprisingly easy to catch a lift – or 4 as it turns out we need. Who wouldn’t stop to pick up a guy (or gal) in uniform. We’re not even armed.

Once there – we settle in for what turns out to be the fireworks show to end all fireworks shows!

The theme is of course the battle of Waterloo – and from the opening notes of ‘The Hanging Tree’ from the Hunger Games series – you know this isn’t going to be pro-war!

In addition to limitless fireworks – all coordinated to music, there’s the opening ‘Duchess of Richmond’s’ Ball – there’s a memorial act to the thousands of horses that died on this field in the form of gigantic horse puppets – lite from within, and there are real Calvary on real horses racing around the field. My favorite – the fire throwers.

Performers in skin tight outfits come out onto the walkway that seperates us from the field, and proceed to pour fire around and around them. Then they shovel up whatever they were pouring – throwing it up and over their heads. It explodes there into a huge fireballs – and pours fire onto their heads. They do that over and over again. It’s awesome!

Further from us, there are performers with fire head-dresses, and of course the huge lion mouth at the center of the stage shoots fireballs from the top – over and around the spectators.

I can’t help but think that in comparison the battle will be a sad sack event!

Fireworks finally over, we leave and walk 1 km to where they are allowing cars to travel. We again resolve to hitch our ways back to the Bivouc, and eventually we are all tucked into our tents.

Tomorrow is our first battle!

Signing off to get some much needed rest – The Soup Lady – aka M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairemont

The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball


200 years ago – with troops massing all thru Europe, and Napoleon fighting for the life of France – the Duchess of Richmond decided to have a ball in Brussels.

According to our informed source – so many people wanted to attend the ball – it was held in a barn!

Fast forward 200 years – and with re-enactors massing all around Brussels – the ‘Duchess’ is holding her ball again – and of course we must attend.

Word has gone out that French uniforms will not be acceptable – and gentlemen and their ladies must dress properly. The Ball will include a lovely sit-down dinner, hosted by the ‘Duchess’ and her consort – and of course ‘Wellington’ and his officers will be in attendance.

We are booked into the ‘Salve’ BnB – with in easy walking distance of the Chateau where the Ball will be held. Our friend – the Saper – is joining us – we shall be attending the ball together.

We dress for the occasion – and I must admit – we look quite fine! My seamtress has done a wonderful job on my gown, and my escorts look dashing in their top hats, canes, and dancing shoes. We look so good that one of our hostess’s neighbors comes over to see what is happening and insists on taking pictures. Our hostess even provides us with a carriage ride for the short distance – and we make our proper entrance to the Ball. The company is fine and beautifully dressed. And the Chateau is magnificant.

Properly dressed waiters in period wigs serve everyone champagne and hors d’oeuvres – and we gossip and chat till Wellington arrives. He invites us to join him on the veranda for a fife and drum concert, performed splendidly by a troop from the loyal Colonies.

They march in, perform to the attention and applause of all, and then we mount the stairs for a splendid dinner.

Our dinner companions are Dance Masters from the Colonies, a wonderful couple from the Prussian Allies, the ‘Saper’, and a Spanish Couple who enterain us all with tales of the problems Spain is having with both Louie Boneparte and their herditary King. To their minds, neither is worth the uniform they wear!

After dinner, it is time for the ball proper to begin. While my dance card is hardly full – I do have the first few dances claimed – and I hope to find partners for them all.

We begin with a traditional Polonaise – which gives us all the opportunity to check out the other dancers, and to admire the gowns of the other ladies. There are some stunning gowns, and to be honest, I suffer a bit from gown envy. Where do they find such lovely materials to work with – I shall definitely have to have a word with my two seamstresses – The Regency version of keeping up with “The Jones’s ”

The dances roughly alternate between Long line dances and Quadrilles. I of course try to dance them all – but it is a challenge to hear the Dance Master over the hubub in the room. Several times – in several languages – he asks for people not interested in dancing to retire to the sitting areas – or to make use of the terrace, but I suspect that watching the dancing is simply too much fun!

Suddenly the dancing is interrupted by a young man in uniform accompanied by two Prussian officers in muddy traveling cloaks. They run into the room – calling for the attention of Wellington! He hands him a message – and Wellington reads the note to himself and then informs us that Napoleon has ‘humbug’d’ him – and is even now approaching the city! Women gasp white the officers in attendance grab their hats and swords and promptly follow Wellington out of the room.

The remaining dancers finish the dance, but clearly the mood is no longer one of gaiety and laughter – war has come too quickly upon us.

We make our way to the cloakroom – and head back to our lodging. Tomorrow we are off to the Bivouac.

Signing off to put on her uniform and prepare for battle – The Soup Lady.

It’s back to Civilization – or Brussels on the Cheap….


After our uneventful flight to Brussels – and equally uneventful train/metro to our hostel – we are delighted to be welcomed at the “Sleephere” Hostel!

Karl is an incredible host – and our palace on the 3rd floor (yes – it’s a walk up – again) – is glorious. We finally have our own bathroom – and it has marble everywhere! Shower, sink, floor, walls – it’s so beautiful – and just ours! No sharing. I hate sharing – there is something about dealing with other people’s mess that just doesn’t work for me. The Intrepid Traveler and I have our corners – we allocate our spaces and know automatically whose towel is whose. I suppose it’s a bit like an old married couple – but with none of the strains!

Our Palace – besides having it’s own bathroom – is lovely. It’s in the attic of a home built originally in the 1600’s – then renovated in the 1800’s – our room was one of the last added – and our ceiling height ranges from 10′ in the center to under 5′ on the sides. I know this for certain – I’m bumped my head twice already. But it’s clean, it’s got windows on 4 sides – and we’re very very happy to have a space that is ours alone.

The common area of the “SleepHere” is awesome. Leather furniture everywhere – and super comfortable. There’s a Piano (which our host plays occasionally), a large TV, a giant dinning room table where they serve a lovely breakfast (can you say – coffee please), and a huge kitchen with tons of working space, a nice fridge, lots of dishes ands of glasses.

Most importantly to me – and the reason I reserved here in the first place – a garden terrace. The Intrepid Traveler and I are so very pleased to have a terrace – and the roses and peony’s are in bloom.

I chat up Karl – and get a quick tour of the dorm rooms. We’re in the only double – but the house sleeps 20. The dorm bathrooms – like ours – are all done in marble – and equally glorious. Unlike Russia – where the name of the game was to cram as many beds into a sleeping space as possible – here there are no bunk beds, and everyone has a ‘dresser’ to call their own. It’s dorm living the upper class way! Karl proudly shows me the historic parts of the house – the current entrance was the original carriage way – and when they had to do some repairs to the ground floor – they dug up the original foundations – from the 1600’s. This place is amazing.

We dump our gear, relax with our bread and cheese in the garden for a late dinner and it’s relatively early to bed. Tomorrow will be a long day.

Some quick notes – Brussels, in comparison to St. Petersburg, is dirty! There’s dog poop everywhere, overflowing garbage cans, and homeless camped out here and there. This is when I realize what I didn’t see in St. Petersburg – homeless and garbage. Interesting, eh? I also realize that people smile and say hi a lot more here – and the kids are playing. All things we missed for 2 weeks.

Up early on Saturday, we relax over breakfast at the hostel – our host makes a point of joining everyone at breakfast – and it’s time to share information. Where are you from? Where are you going? What are your plans for the day? Did you see something cool? We relax – we chat – and then it’s on to our plans for the day – Laundry first!

That is when Sticker Shock really hits us – and it hits hard. In St. Petersburg – laundry was free. Here it’s 3.5 Euro a load to wash, and since the token machine was empty at the laundry mat – drying is going to be done the hard way – on a line, in our room. And it’s not just the laundry that pricy – fruit is twice the price, wine in the grocery store is double what it was in St. Petersburg – even the bread is more expensive.

Quick lunches – which we could find for $5 (4 Euro) in St. Petersburg are 22 Euro here. I’m sure they are worth the extra money – but how as budget travelers are we going to survive? It’s going to be take out and grocery stores for us here!

Laundry done – we walk the streets of Brussels. The area near the hostel is closely packed with restaurants and shops – and of course a Catholic Church – so services are on the menu for this afternoon. We also tour the Grand Place – the tourist heart beat of the city. 6:00 finds us at the Cathedral – listening to the organ play as services start. For dinner we opt for take-out – Peking Duck, Rice and a nice bottle of White Wine. Like St. Petersburg – it’s light out till almost 11:00 PM – so while it feels early, it’s actually quite late when we crawl up the 2 additional flights of stairs to our palace.

Sunday – up somewhat early – we head out to the Weekly Flea Market – and not surprisingly – anything nice is very expensive. The sellers (mostly professionals who do this for a living) are clearly very aware of the value of every single thing that they own – and price it accordingly. Silver – real silver – is extremely expensive – and while stuff from the 50’s and 60’s abound – anything that smacks of history or value is long gone. I struggle to find a set of silver spoons – and end up with 12 nice looking silver plated ones. Not as great as I’d hoped – but better than no spoons! Oh well.

For lunch we need to sit down – so we find a relatively inexpensive cafe – and share a bowl of onion soup and a Croque Monsieur. It adds up quickly – but we are so happy to have a toilet and a place to just sit – we just quietly camp out and let the world pass by for a while. This is why we can’t do organized tours anymore – when we crash and burn – we need to stop!

Vitals restored – we walk towards our next destination – the Royal Art Musuem. On the way – we pass a ‘Frite’ Stand – and I do a hard left! No way I’m not having French Fries here – they are so yummy with Mayonnaise. We share a big cone of awesome frits – and continue on our way.

At the museum – they are doing a major exhibit on Chagal, one of my favorite artists – but at 15.50 Euro – each – it’s well over our price range. We opt for the much less pricy permanent exhibits – and tour the ‘Margrite’ museum, and the old masters. Rubens, Rembrant, Bosch, and of course 6 paintings by the Bruggers – 3 younger, 3 older. All magnificant. Dinner is wine, bread, and brie. Yum.

Monday – all museums are closed in Brussels – at least all the major ones. So we do the public tram tour. You buy a one day ticket for just a few Euro, and ride from one end of the line, out all the way to the other end – and back! It’s really interesting to see what Brussels looks like when you aren’t in the heart of historic Brussels!

Back at the hostel we have a lovely easy dinner – bottle of wine, cheese, some of the lovely sausages that are literally everywhere – and conversations on topics ranging from life in the US, to finding and keeping a good boyfriend, to getting into a good university, to the challenges of deciding on your direction in life. All the things that young people worry about – and old people – like us – love to listen to! (and secretly sing – “I’m so glad I’m not young anymore”)

Tuesday – our last day together on this trip – and we decide to tour 2 different museums – the Military life museum and the Museum of Ethnology – I want to see the statue from Easter Island. We keep running into fellow re-enactors – the Battle of Waterloo 2015 (200th anniversary) is this weekend – and of course a tour of the Military museum in Brussels is a must. I will admit that the exhibit they had on World War II – from the Belgium perspective – was extremely well done, and very very interesting.

Despite the sticker shock – our economies have paid off – and we actually have enough Euro’s left to spluge on a nice dinner. Our decision – Waffles and Hot Chocolate at one of the top chocolate makers in Beligum! Oh my – it’s delicous. Awesome actually. Seriously finger licking good.

Wednesday – Victor – lovely Victor – picks us up at the hostel with his rental car and we battle our way out to the airport to send the Intrepid Traveler home. These 4 weeks have just flown by.

Then my husband and I head back to the area near my hostel to eat a seafood lunch of mussels (yum) and frits. I’m really getting addicted to those frits – and while mussels aren’t in season – (June has no “r” in it) – they still beat the pants off most of the mussels we get in Montreal. Then it’s on to our BnB and to the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball.

So – having basically caught everyone one up to date – I’m signing off now.

Blog alert – the next blogs are going to be re-enacting based – Napoleon’s forces are massing on the borders of Belgium – the trumpets are sounding – and it’s off to war I must go.

The Soup Lady