In commemoration of the centenary of the commencement of World War I, President Obama, standing shoulder to shoulder alongside the King and Prime Minister of Belgium, paid homage to the fallen today at the American Cemetery in Flanders Field, Belgium. Situated in Waregem, directly between the Belgium city of Ghent and the French town of Lille, the Flanders Field cemetery is the smallest of eight permanent American cemeteries in Europe paying homage to those lost in the First World War and indeed the only one to be situated in Belgium, six being situated in France and one in England.
Ghent, situated to the northeast of Flanders Field, is currently enjoying a wave of welcome attention thanks to the appearance of its most famous triptych, the van Eyck brothers’ Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, in the film The Monuments Men, starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin. Telling the story of the biggest art thefts in history, The Monuments Men recounts how an assembled group of American art historians, museum directors and curators entered the military with the specific assignment of recovering stolen works from behind German front lines during World War II. It is said that The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb was high on Hitler’s coveted wish list and indeed his troops were ordered to systematically seize all valuable works of art for his personal possession. Discovered in an abandoned Austrian salt mine, the triptych now permanently resides in the city’s mighty St Bavo’s Cathedral.
To the southwest of Waregem, Lille meanwhile is often overlooked as a short-break destination yet is a city full of surprises. A mere 80 minutes via Eurostar from London and birthplace of General Charles de Gaulle, Lille is the capital of France’s Nord Pas-de-Calais region and abounds with culture, impressive Flemish architecture, a young, friendly vibe and lively nightlife and a fine selection of museums, including its pièce de résistance, the magnificent Palais des Beaux Arts, considered one of the foremost museums in provincial France. Housed in an impressive 19th-century building on the Place de la République, it boasts a prestigious collection of paintings including many from the Flemish School, in addition to French, Italian and Spanish works., Lille is also a superb venue for shopping, be it in the boutiques lining the cobbled streets, Printemps department store or its renowned and bustling Wazemmes flea and flower market.