The kids and I strolled along the banks of the Thames again before our 11 AM check out and enjoyed being in the midst of a busy Tuesday morning London commute. Just as we had finally become accustomed to looking right, left, and then right again when crossing the streets filled with drivers going the "wrong way," we had to be even more alert that morning with all of the cyclists and runners heading to work. Once we broke away from the hustle and bustle, we took a break on some giant turf-upholstered furniture outside the National Theatre. 

We headed for our last trip Underground toward the train station and said our goodbyes to a city which left us really impressed. We saw only a small percentage of London but it was clean and friendly and there was a lot less smoking and cigarette detritus than we've endured in Brussels. 

Oddly, however, it is surprisingly difficult to find a rubbish bin in public and only slightly easier to find a loo. Overall, this European trek has reminded us to appreciate America's ubiquitous trash receptacles, drinking fountains and free public toilets. 

We reached the train station with time to spare so were able to visit an Olympic merchandise shop and pick up a few souvenirs of our time in London, including some vaguely phallic Wenlock and Mandeville dolls. After a quick lunch we hopped on one of the pianos in the lobby and tickled the ivory for a bit.

Once we were reunited with Betsy upon our return to Brussels, we joined some friends at a Thai restaurant near Grand Place, where we would get our first look at this year's version of the famous Flower Carpet. However, just a couple of blocks from our flat, we knew our enjoyment of that sight would be nothing compared to this:

Ha ha ha ha ha! WIENER BUS!

Okay, we regained our composure quickly enough to snap a quick photo of the fully-adorned plaza in daylight on our way to the restaurant. The Flower Festival is a biennial five-day event during which hundreds of thousands of flowers are artfully arranged in historic Grand Place.

After dinner, we entered the square just as the nightly fireworks display began. With kids hoisted on shoulders, we all enjoyed the spectacle of rockets shooting into the night sky from the floral mosaic covering the ground. I then disrupted some diners who thought they had made some pretty exclusive reservations when I climbed up to the second story of an eatery to hang out of an open window next to their table to get this shot from above. 

The blueprint for this edition of the Flower Carpet.


August 15th is a national holiday throughout much of Europe in celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since St. Jude's Brussels office was closed on Wednesday, Betsy took a few hours to join us on our visit to Little Europe at the foot of the Atomium.

We had a good time wandering through the various "countries" and seeing miniature versions of some of the landmarks we've visited during our travels. Here are a couple of shots of the cathedral and citadel at Dinant. Which one is real? I don't know anymore!

Since we're not going to Italy during our trip, we at least got this incredibly original shot of the mini Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Next we rode the escalators and climbed the stairs to visit the interior of the Atomium, which - as noted in the Day 5 blog entry when we first set eyes on the exterior - was originally constructed in 1958 as part of the World Fair of Brussels, or Expo 58. It symbolizes the peaceful use of atomic energy, the democratic will to maintain peace among all nations and an optimistic view of the future. Like other landmark structures around the world, it was intended to be temporary but captured the country's imagination and was transformed into a permanent feature. When we visited, the spheres contained a series of displays on water usage, a cafe at the very top (which was closed) and one room that is used by school groups for educational sleepovers.

We ended our day with a trip to our local Delhaize grocery for a final stock-up before we depart for Paris this Sunday, then it was back to the flat to get caught up on laundry. We're all excited for Betsy to wrap up work on Friday so she can finally join in the vacation full time. 


Since we slept in until noon on Sunday, we decided to change our plans a little and swap the day's planned trip to Cologne for a closer excursion to Dinant, just over an hour southeast of Brussels by car. The steep cliffs and rolling hills on the bank of the river made the town a strategic fortification in the past and a charming tourist destination today. This rock, le rocher Bayard, stands completely separated from the main rock and was separated with an explosion to provide passage for the French troops of Louis XIV after they took Dinant. Legend says that a giant Bayard horse split the rock with its hoof as it jumped from here over the river. It's a tight squeeze and probably yet another reason we haven't seen any Escalades or Suburbans around here.

Populated since neolithic times, the name Dinant was first recorded about 800 BC. Located on the Muese River, the town is famous for the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame and the fortified cliff-top Citadel overlooking the entire valley. 

The church, originally completed in the 10th century, was damaged by rocks falling from the cliff in 1227 and was rebuilt in Gothic style on the existing foundation. Though it has undergone several reconstructions and renovations due to various battles, some of the stained glass windows date from the late 15th century. The detail and storytelling in this giant example were captivating.

The signature pear-shaped dome was originally completed in 1566 and the tomb of Gérard de Blanmostier in the left transept is dated 1356. The interior is filled with artwork and relics, including the first genuine crown any of us had ever seen!

We declined to climb the 408-step staircase - which was built in 1577 - for the modern convince of the steepest cable car ascent in the world to get to the top of the cliff for a tour of the citadel.

The fortress has been a central point for some very dramatic clashes throughout history. In 1466, Charles the Bold sacked Dinant. The town and castle were destroyed and he ordered 800 workers to be tied together in pairs and tossed into the river. The citadel was rebuilt in 1523 and the town flourished until Louis XIV's army invaded and took control. He and his engineers made many improvements to the castle but what we see today is a product of the Dutch who rebuilt it after it was destroyed between 1818 and 1821. We really enjoyed seeing the archers windows and imagining firing arrows down on advancing marauders as well as looking out cannon openings like this one defending the bridge below.

Most of the artifacts inside were from the early 19th century as the fortress housed WWI-era soldiers and their supplies. Below is a guardroom in the prison section of the fortress. 

The prisoners weren't captured enemies. Rather, they were soldiers or villagers who were being punished for various misdeeds. It wasn't clear if the guillotine we saw in the torture room was ever used here but the axe and chopping block "used to cut off the right hand of people who murdered their parents" definitely was.

The fortress was demilitarized in 1868 to allow tourists to visit the area for views like this from the terrifying observation deck.

However, violent conflicts were fought within the walls during both World Wars, including a harrowing account of almost 100 soldiers cornered in a narrow passage and fighting each other hand-to-hand with bayonets to the death in August, 1914. Here's the effect of German shells on the town in WWI.

Dinant is also the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, a flautist and clarinetist who, in 1844, introduced the saxophone to the world.

There's no doubt we were among the only Americans in town even though it was a busy Sunday afternoon. While Dinant is a tourist destination for Europeans, it's a rare stop for US visitors. Fortunately we were able to blend in nicely by making like the locals.