Thursday and Friday were both quiet days as the kids and I spent most of both mornings getting back to work. I had some serious blogging to do to get caught up on our time in London and the youngsters were all eager to dive back into their arithmetic and reading. Well, they may not have been given much of a choice but they were rewarded with a trip to Stardust, Brussels' largest indoor play park on Thursday afternoon.

Since Belgian schoolchildren are still on summer holiday, we found the place wide open like many local attractions we've visited. We arrived just after four p.m. and shared the facility with maybe fifteen other kids for the two hours we were there. X, V and Q rode bumper cars, race cars and motorcycles, enjoyed climbing, sliding and bouncing on all kinds of activity areas and became expert bumper boaters with all the time they spent bouncing into each other on the water.

Friday afternoon's reward was a trip to the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences a half hour's walk from the flat. On our way we stopped by a beer shop that boasted 400 different varieties. I swear a place like this would make a killing in America. If anyone wants to go in on a business with me, I promise to personally sample every one of our products to best advise our potential customers.

We weren't sure what to expect at the museum, but its collection of specimens of virtually every animal species on land, sea and air was vast and the dinosaur hall is the largest in the world completely devoted to dinosaurs. The museum, founded in 1846, gained international attention when it became home to thirty fossilized Iguanodon skeletons, which were discovered in 1878 in a coal mine in Bernissart, Belgium.

Another highlight for us was the ensemble of stuffed and mounted animals both living and extinct that filled hall after non-air-conditioned hall. The boys can't get enough of the big cats and Vaughn in particular loves the spotted ones.

The fish exhibits reinforced the kids' growing demand for an aquarium upon our return home; they want a clown fish named Nemo and a goldfish named Goldie. Pretty creative. There was a North and South Pole room with great examples of the different animals found at both, including a narwhal, and a whale room that included an enormous skeleton of a young blue whale.

The insect gallery was stunning in its abundance with fifteen million (!) individual specimens of insects, spiders, crustaceans and other arthropods. That wing of the museum culminated in a vivarium with several tanks of live creepy crawlies. 

On the way home we were quite hungry but decided to hold off until we found something a little more familiar than the options offered by one African eatery just off the main strip.

That evening, after catching up with Granny and Grandpa Hughes on Skype, we celebrated the beginning of Betsy's longest vacation in five years with a walk to Grand Place for another look at the Flower Carpet. We were glad we saw it in its full glory on Tuesday as it had lost much of its freshness and fragrance but it was still exciting to take in the scene. We also made sure to hit a waffle spot for a snack as we lingered at the beautiful landmark for probably the last time.


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 all of the museums and palaces are closed on Mondays in Brussels, the kids and I didn't do anything special during the day on the 23rd besides taking the scooters out for another spin at the skate park after loading up on groceries in the morning. We try to take different routes each time out to explore new parts of the city and that day it paid off in the form of a fine pair of boobs on this swimmer statute.

When Betsy returned, a postprandial stroll to Grand Place for some ice cream for the kids and a waffle for dad sounded like a great idea. 

Throughout the city are comic murals and I had heard that this one of Tintin and Haddock descending a fire escape in The Calculus Affair was right across from Mannekin Pis. We missed it on our last visit but were pleased to find it this time.

Tuesday marked the first day of the summer that the Royal Palace opened its doors to the public and we were among the first to gain entry. The price was right...admission was free and an English tour brochure was available for just one Euro.  

While the current King and Queen, Albert II and his wife, Paola, live in a chateau on the outskirts of the city near the Atomium, the Palais Royal de Bruxelles is the official palace of the King of the Belgians and is still used by the royal family for audiences, affairs of the state and receptions. The building also houses offices and apartments for visiting Heads of State.  

The site dates from medieval times (the palace was built over previous structures when the area was leveled out - see Belvue Museum, Day 4) but construction on this building began in 1783. Various renovations and innovations, including the addition of the current facade around 1900 have transformed it to the wonder it is today. The interior, as one would expect, is ostentatious to the extreme. 

Each generation of the royal family has put its own artistic stamp on various rooms; a series of tapestries in the Goya Room based on the artists' work, a series of murals over the Venice Staircase depicting the City of Water, bas-reliefs by Rodin in the throne room (below) and more. 

A look overhead in the long Grand Gallery reveals three ceiling murals; The Morning (below), The Day and The Evening

The Hall of Mirrors features Heaven of Delight, the most recent artistic addition to the palace; a shimmering emerald-green ceiling and chandelier covered with 1.6 million Thai green-jewel beetle wing casings. The fried beetles are consumed in Thailand and the wing casings, called elytra, are usually simply discarded. Their use here was stunning. The dancing patterns juxtaposed with the ornate white ceiling and majestic fireplace made this room the highlight of the visit.

Well, it was the highlight of my visit. The kids were quite literally exposed to a whole new level of artistic excitement when they discovered that sculptures here feature not only boobs, but the occasional wiener as well. The statue on the left of Bacchus and a fawn is in the main entryway while the African phone booth of love (click on that one for a closer look) was part of a special exhibit in the throne room. Game on, Belgium!


We left toasty Minnesota on Monday, July 16th with enough luggage for two weeks and a little extra room for all the fabulous merchandise we plan on bringing back.

After a brief layover in NY and an almost nine-hour flight across the Atlantic, we reached Belgium at around 2:30 a.m. US Central time. Of course it was "tomorrow morning" here so after finding our flat and throwing our stuff inside, we decided to explore the area on foot. We're just around the corner from the Palace of Justice. Completed in 1883, it was the largest building constructed in the 19th century. So many people were displaced by its construction, calling someone an architect became a great insult in Brussels at the turn of the last century. It is home to Belgium's supreme court of law and has been covered with scaffolding since 2003 as it is currently being renovated. We were still able to see the incredible interior and it was a nice introduction to the architectural wonders that one is treated to in Brussels at every turn. 

After some sandwiches for a quick lunch we made a beeline for our first obligatory waffles of the trip and the world-famous Mannekin Pis statue. We also saw boobs on a couple of ads so the kids think Europe is pretty cool.

The statue is on the corner of a busy street with lots of great shops and eateries and is just a couple of blocks away from La Grand Place. None of the pictures we took did it justice; one is surrounded by 360 degrees of glorious gilded and statue-packed monumental buildings and it is a place that has to been seen with one's own eyes to really appreciate the splendor. But we will return at night when Betsy says it is even more spectacular and I will be sure to include a photo from that visit.

The kids and I were thrilled to visit La Boutique Tintin as well. Betsy has returned home with some gifts from the store in the past but getting to see all the stuff for ourselves was great. We shall be back to spend some Euros there before we move on.

Finally, our little passengers conked out in the car on the way to the local Delhaize grocery store where we stocked up on food and necessities. As I finish this entry at 11:30 p.m. Belgium time, they are all finally down for good. We've got nothing planned for tomorrow except to get out and explore some more and see what wonders strike our fancy.

A few quick observations:

It is in the mid 60s here and very pleasant. Nice to get a break from the heat and humidity back home.

Jaywalking is a full-time hobby for many and most don't seem to bother looking first. People must be flattened by buses here on a regular basis. We threw traffic off when we stopped at an intersection to wait for an opportunity to cross.  

Belgians love their car horns. My chauffeur got honked at while waiting for a red light to change and for having the nerve to almost t-bone a Citroen when the other driver blew a stop sign and tried to pull out in front of us. I hollered at him in English and he didn't honk again so I guess I showed him.

You won't find milk and eggs in the refrigerated aisle in this part of the world. Both are usually just sitting out at room temperature at the store. We've got both in the flat, staying American-cold in the fridge for breakfast tomorrow. 

We're still awaiting our first Belgian beer sampling. Oh I guess I do have something planned for tomorrow!