Advice – Take It or Leave It

Have you ever said to someone that you’re planning to visit a particular place only to have them say, “It’s not worth it. There’s not much to see. Don’t bother.”? Then you have to decide whether to take this unsolicited advice or ignore it and see for yourself.

One of the places we really wanted to see while we were in Brussels was Waterloo, site of the famous battle between the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte. We’d been told there wasn’t much there and it wasn’t worth making the trip but we decided to disregard this advice and see the battlefield for ourselves. After all, we weren’t going to be in Brussels again anytime soon and it was easy enough to get there on a local train.

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The journey from Brussels Central Station took about 45 minutes. When we arrived at the station at Waterloo we were the only ones who left the train, and the station and surrounding streets were deserted. The tourist information office in town was a 15 minute walk from the station and we ambled along, passing local homes, parks and a school, but still without meeting a single soul. We were beginning to wonder if what we’d heard was right.

The Tourist Office is located in a charming 19th century building and it was there we needed to buy our tickets for all the battlefield attractions.

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It was also there that we received the best advice of our whole five week trip. The lady in the office was so helpful and friendly. As soon as she heard we had come to Waterloo by train she gave us all the information we needed to get to the site by bus. She was able to sell us bus tickets as well as entry tickets, told us where to wait, the number of each bus we needed and at which stop to get off. She also advised us to visit the Wellington Museum before going to the battlefield so that we didn’t have to come back into town.  By the time we left the office we were armed with all the information we needed to see everything and enjoy our day.

Our first stop was St Joseph’s Church of Waterloo, next door to the tourism office.

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The oldest part of the church is the Chapel Royal, consecrated in 1690. In the Chapel there are 27 plaques dedicated to the fallen of the Battle of Waterloo. Some commemorate all those who fought here while others tell the sad story of just one soldier.

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Across the road, in an 18th century coaching inn, is the Wellington Museum.

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It was in this building that the Duke of Wellington set up his headquarters in the days before the battle and then wrote the report of his victory over Napoleon to the British government. The museum has rooms dedicated to both armies, with armour, swords and guns found on the battlefield, letters and dispatches and descriptions of the battle from both sides. The museum was just the right size – big enough to learn about the battle and what we were going to see on the battlefield without having to spend several hours there.

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Next we found the bus stop we needed, and just as the tourism office lady had told us, along came the bus at exactly the right time. We told the driver we needed to get off at the battlefield stop and he was happy to help us and made sure we knew when to get off the bus and which direction we had to walk – more friendly advice we were happy to heed.

From the bus stop to the battlefield and the Butte du Lion we walked for another 15 minutes past farmland and country homes. In these surroundings the Butte du Lion or Lion’s Mound could easily be seen in the distance. This artificial hill was created on the orders of King William 1 of the Netherlands to commemorate all those who fell during the battle and in particular his son, the Prince of Orange, who was wounded by a musket ball.

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Near the Butte du Lion are two buildings which should not be missed. The first is the Visitors’ Centre where there is a wealth of information about the battle and those who took part in it. There are two films showing: “Waterloo, History of a Battle” which describes the life of a soldier using footage from a re-enactment in 2009, and excerpts from the 1970 movie “Waterloo”.

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The second building houses the Panorama, a massive painted canvas 110 metres long and 12 metres high. It was created by Louis Dumoulin, a French Navy artist, and depicts the scene of the battle at 4 pm on 18 June, 1815 as the French troops began an unsuccessful attack on Wellington’s right flank.

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The painting, accompanied by a sound track of cannon fire and the cries of the soldiers, is so realistic we felt like we were first hand witnesses to this moment in history.

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To complete our battlefield experience we climbed the 226 steps to the top of the Butte du Lion and were able to finally see for ourselves the site of the Battle of Waterloo.  There are information boards around the fence so we could easily imagine the opposing sides as they bore down on each other.

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On top of the mound is the statue of a magnificent lion, its front paw resting on a globe of the world. The lion, heraldic emblem of the King of the Netherlands, symbolises peace, courage and victory.

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Standing at the top of the Butte du Lion we celebrated a small victory of our own. We definitely made the right decision when we decided to ignore that advice and make the journey to this fascinating historical place.

So, when you’re given unsolicitied travel advice, do you take it or leave it?

 

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39 thoughts on “Advice – Take It or Leave It

  1. I really like it when you find a helpful person in places like this (like the lady you found in the office). Sometimes they couldn’t be bothered and it can sour a trip. I usually listen to people about visiting places and then go anyway – sometimes when they say it’s bad it ends up being a lot better than expected! 😀

  2. Your blog post made me smile Carol. Who is this scoundrel who gave you such poor advice? He should be made to stand on the Butte du Lion on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo wearing nothing but a placard saying “Do not trust this man!” And then I realised that your misleading adviser was none other than … ME! Oops. I am so glad you ignored my advice (although I don’t think it was unsolicited; didn’t you ask me what I thought of Waterloo? Or perhaps not). And I am so glad you had a wonderful experience. Memo to self: don’t give advice based on experiences of ten years ago!

    • Great comment Denzil. I think our conversation was: We are planning to go to Waterloo – don’t bother it’s not very interesting – I looked it up and there seems to be a bit there to see – let me know if you go – we went and it was amazing – that’s great!

      You weren’t the only one who said that though. We had several other people who were very discouraging, which makes me think either they went a long time ago before the tourism office and the museums were there, or marketing of the area has improved greatly.

      I’m glad you received my story in the manner in which it was intended and I think you should go to the 200 year celebrations next year and then share it with us all. Oh, and you should probably wear more than a placard…they might not let you in otherwise!

  3. Great question! I always tend to want to view the place for myself anyway. In fact, if someone tells me they hated somewhere, it sparks my curiosity even more!

  4. We take the advice into consideration but then we always like to make our own mind up. So if we were keen, we go anyway but if we are 50/50, we sometimes do more research and if we were unsure, then we sometimes take the advice 🙂
    We didn’t visit Waterloo when we were in Belgium but it’s on the list for next time!!

  5. I think I would listen to what people said, but then I would probably do a bit of research myself and make my own mind up. I’ve been to a couple of places/events that other people have said weren’t worth going to.

  6. That looks like the sort of place I’d love to see. My partner and I are both real history geeks so it would probably have been top of our list for a visit to Belgium 🙂

  7. I am so glad you decided to leave the advice or I wouldn’t have found out about this battlefield. My son George is a Waterloo fan, you don’t know how many times we have watched the film (!). When I showed my husband your post, he immediately wanted it forwarding to him to read. The good news is that George may be going to University in The Hague which is not so far away from Waterloo is it? Also Castle Howard is in my home county of Yorkshire and I wasn’t aware of the connection there, now I can impress my family with my knowledge! Cath

  8. You saw a lot for a place that had nothing to see. As for advice, I am always open to new ideas. One of the best bits I ever received was while in Australia. I was told to hang out at the camp kitchen or laundry where people will chat and get to meet new people. We had so many great evening of fine company and great new travel advice over that year of camping trips. We really miss that now that we are back in Canada. We can only hope to recreate that here.

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