After Betsy left to drive to work solo in Europe for the first time, the kids and I set off to find the Palais Royale and adjoining Parc de Bruxelles. After getting a little turned around, we asked a local how to get to the palace. He laughed and asked us, "Which palace? There are palaces everywhere!" The man is right. Almost every street seems to end in a glorious edifice that seems to be or have been home to nobility.
Below is the palace which is home to Albert II, the sixth and current King of the Belgians
and his family. We witnessed the changing of the guard but were unable to get too close as the grounds were being prepared for Saturday's big celebration. July 21 is the anniversary of the coronation of the first King (1831) and is accompanied by parades, displays, food and fireworks. We'll try to get in the middle of all the action in just a few days to see all the pomp and circumstance. We did manage to get in a free display in a side building that showed the history of dining at the palace. We saw lavish place settings and learned some interesting tidbits about the development of fine cuisine.
Before we made our way to the palace, we made a lunch of french bread, ham and cheese in the park. It's something I remember doing with my parents in France in 1979 and is something I've wanted to do ever since. Sculptures were dispersed throughout the grounds depicting all of the Belgian institutions; beer, fries, mussels, chocolate and brussels sprouts including this Borg version of the cruciferous bud.
Midway through our lunch I made the mistake of asking a passerby wearing a Yankees cap (I've seen several guys sporting Yankees gear but no other U.S. sports teams. Too easy, people.) and a USA sweatshirt if he was American. He wasn't, but he was only too happy to share his story.
Over the course of about an hour as we ate and then strolled together, this man told me about ten years spent in a Soviet prison, warned me that Belgium is run by the mafia and asked me to contact John McCain on his behalf. He wrote down the number for McCain's office (and a lawyer in Santa Monica) from memory. I gave him an apple in exchange for a nice map of the city and we bade each other farewell.
Then we saw more boobs.
On the way home we entered the Eglise Notre Dame au Sablon. It's a chapel that was built in the 15th century with 50-foot stained glass windows and is a Dan Brown fantasy come to life. There are ancient inscriptions, crypts and displays throughout the sanctuary and the woodwork and statues are filled with detail and passion. The kids were all silently awestruck by what they saw and the visit led to a nice discussion about Jesus' life and death.
Of course, just because we're halfway across the world, we're not going to let the young 'uns off the hook from their piano, language and math studies. Our flat is already home away from home.