The following takes place on May 10, 2015.
Here is sleepy me waiting for the train in Brussels. We are headed to a town which is called Ieper (EE-per) or Ypres (e-PREY), depending on which language you’re using. Since the city is in a Flemish region, we’ll use Ieper for this blog entry. Also, I feel the need to mention how weird/irritating/confusing it is for every place in this country to essentially have 2 names.
With just a few stops, we make it to Ieper in a little under 2 hours. We notice a handful of people near us on the train carrying stools. I figure it’s for the cat parade and wonder if camp-style collapsible chairs just aren’t a thing over here?
We walk the distance from the train station to the hotel, which is .6 miles. It wouldn’t have seemed nearly so bad if we hadn’t had our luggage and the streets hadn’t been mostly this cobblestone-like bricks.
We are here for Kattenstoet, the Cat Parade and festival they have here every 3 years. Back in the day, cats were brought in to keep vermin out of the massive cloth hall, but in the spring when all the fabric was sold, the cats were deposed from the bell tower. And like some holidays, a happy celebration was created in place of the negative. Hence the massive cat festival!!! I was so excited when i found out about this AND that it fell in our vacation window.
We arrive at our hotel, Alliance Hotel Ieper Centrum but it’s too early to check in. Also, they don’t have a room to put our luggage, so they have us stow it in the lobby with a few others already there. I don’t feel great about leaving my stuff like that, but it’s a tiny hotel and I don’t think many people will be coming through there, so I transfer any valuables to my purse, fix my hair, apply some makeup while sitting on the floor of the lobby and then put on my cat ears and head out to stake out a spot to watch the parade. We were pretty early, so we found a good spot right against the barricade, just past the stands set up right in front of the cloth hall. BTW, this cloth hall is massive!
The parade starts at with an advertising caravan, mostly local businesses. They mostly toss out candy, toys and other promotional knickknacks. I start pocketing the pieces I catch and that land near me. Some people lift their kids over the barricade to go collect candy that fell in the street.
After like 45 mins of this, the stray cats come out. Worn clothes and running make-up. Then there is a welcome and they start with tableaux of cat worship throughout history, about the history of the city of Ieper, cats in Language and Legend, the Cat around the World, etc. In the last part we wave goodbye to all the cats. But not without celebrating first with the real Ypres cats. There are the big-headed cats and the sweet Snoezepoezen. We see the well-dressed giant Cieper followed by the parade horse (or should we say parade cat?) Minneke Poes! The Fools Fanfare is preceding a float supporting a model of the Cloth Hall from which the Ypres Fool scatters kittens into the crowd and a confetti cannon showers the crowd.
This parade started at 2pm and went strong all the way until the Cat throwing from the belfry tower by the city jester at 6pm. I mean, this is the longest freaking parade I’ve ever seen. Ironically, I don’t generally like parades much at all, but I guess it’s kindof like not liking lines and crowds but still going and looking forward to San Diego Comic Con with it’s 130,000 attendees and lines you sit in for 12+ hours. Go big or go home? I don’t know.
In the middle of cats through history, I ran back over to the hotel to check us in and put our luggage more safely in our room, and Jon left at various times to get food and drinks. After 15 mins of watching the stuffed cats being tossed from the belfry tower out to the crowd we decided to go get some dinner (we weren’t near enough to catch one of the cats anyway). We managed to grab the last open table at the nearby pub and had a nice dinner. After that we shopped a bit….and it should be no surprise that I bought a couple plushie cats and cat-shaped Belgian chocolate.
After this, we notice they’re still doing the cat tossing….man, they really keep this thing going on. I read in the program there was supposed to be a mock witch-burning at 7, but we decided we’d been out on our feet for a sufficient number of hours. We envied the people we saw on the train with stools. On our way back to the hotel, we encountered a mass of people and tables in the street that hadn’t been there before. It was a mini-adventure navigating through that.
I gotta talk about this hotel a little bit. First of all, there was an actual key for the room key. I can’t even remember the last time I had a hotel key that wasn’t a plastic key-card. The door lock had an odd, hold the handle like this and turn the key this way, then turn the handle the other way to open, and then you needed the key to lock it from the inside. The room itself was not huge, but the bathroom took up a large chunk of it, and the bathtub was pretty sizeable. I’m not usually a bath person, but I had to partake. I also figured it’d help my tired feet and legs after standing for so many hours. The bed situation was actually 2 twin beds pushed together. Jon was pouty about this, but like I said, they were RIGHT next to each other and we don’t spoon or actively cuddle when we sleep so it didn’t bother me. The beds were comfy and there were extra pillows provided. The comforters, however, yikes. I’ll just say they could use an upgrade. There was no a/c in the room but a remote controlled sky-light which was sufficient to keep us comfortable, luckily.
We ate one of the boxes of chocolate and watched a couple episodes of Myth Busters we found on in English. Then we both basically passed out.
Stay tuned for the next post when we travel back to London…