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. 


Monday, our third day in London, was the city's first in months without any upcoming Olympic celebrations or events on which to focus. It was interesting to walk around areas that had been filled with fans and vendors only a day before and see structures, booths and signs being unceremoniously torn down and removed. The Olympic rings still hung from the Tower Bridge, however, and we got to see them raise along with the bridge to allow a clipper with sails flying to pass underneath. Even hardened Londoners were stopping to snap photos of the sight.  

In the morning, we visited the notorious Clink Prison on the south bank, where we were treated to all sorts of medieval torture devices and tales of captives' misery and woe. The Clink, a nickname for jails still used by English speakers today, was established in 1144 and got its name from the sound of the blacksmith's hammer closing the irons around the wrists or ankles of prisoners. 

Quinn was very apprehensive as we swung open the heavy, creaky wooden door to explore the dark halls of the museum. Posed figures and wall placards told tales of filth and terror endured by both upper and lower class malefactors. Once Quinn felt reassured that we would eventually be released, we all reveled in the surprisingly hands-on experience the various rooms offered. 


We were able to pick up and feel the effects of thumbscrews and a leg iron with a ball attached.

Here Quinn imagines the damage this swinging mace could do while the boys hold a pair of head restraints used to punish gossips. This "light" punishment for women forced the wearer to endure the heavy headgear complete with a spiked tongue depressor as they were paraded about town. 

Another humiliating punishment were the stocks which were used for unscrupulous traders in the stock market, butchers who sold raw meat, bakers who baked sawdust into their bread or little boys who peed all over the toilet and bathroom floor at the Holiday Inn Express. 

The stocks were better than the pillory since at least an offender's upper body was free to facilitate evasive maneuvers to more easily dodge the rotten vegetables, feces and dead animals that people threw at them.

We learned about the way a prisoner's flesh would fall of his body after a few days in the sewage-filled Hole. We saw how criminals' bodies were left to dangle from the gibbet for the ravens to pick at after they were hung and covered with pitch for preservation. We read about the way hangings progressed from a half hour of slow strangulation (friends could help things along by yanking on the condemned, giving us the phrase "pulling your leg"to the quicker method of dropping the victim from a height to break his neck.

Of course, that kind of consideration wasn't always shown if torture was undertaken in an effort to get a confession. Some prisoners were subjected to pressing; a thick door was laid over their spread-eagle body and huge weights were added until ribs were broken and the stubborn individual was near suffocation. Others endured water torture during which they were tied down and forced to drink large quantities of water, urine or bile until their stomach was filled to near bursting. Then they were beaten until they vomited and the whole process was begun anew. People were killed by being burned at the stake (green wood was undesirable as victims would pass out from the smoke and weren't conscious as the flames set in) or were tossed into a vat of boiling water. Others were hung, disemboweled, then cut into quarters - not necessarily in that order. Kneeling in front of an ax-weilding executioner with your neck on a block of wood was easily the quickest and most merciful way to pay the ultimate price.

All that being said, the museum was kid-friendly and the information was presented in a straightforward and educational manner. Such atrocities are a part of our history and it's important to learn how people were once treated before human rights finally began to take hold in most civilized places around the world 200 years ago. I have a bit of a morbid side so I was hoping to find such a place when we first planned our trip to London and it was everything I could've asked for. The kids got into it and were even rewarded with lollipops for accurately counting the rats throughout the galleries! 

In the end, I came through on my promise and we were released to head to the Tower to see jewels and armor and bear witness to more tales of captivity and torture.

We spent three hours roaming the grounds of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London. 

Founded in 1066, the Tower has served as a royal residence and defensive fortification, an armory, a treasury, a menagerie housing exotic animals, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office and home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. Several of the towers housed prisoners in the site's thousand-year history, some in astonishing comfort and others less so. Many left their mark in often heart-wrenching graffiti carved into the walls. This intricate zodiacal chart and calendar was made by one Hew Draper in May of 1561. 

We learned about the various ways the fortress was defended and read about the only time it was overrun during the Peasant's Revolt of 1381.

Before entering the Jewel House to view the royal treasures, we enjoyed watching a ceremonial sentry run through his regimented paces. The guards are regular Army soldiers and enjoy these duties between deployments around the world.

Unfortunately, no photos are allowed throughout the Crown Jewel exhibition so I am unable to share that part of our tour but the shimmering symbols of monarchy which included 400 years of gilded and jewel-encrusted crowns, scepters, swords, orbs and anointing regalia were truly awe-inspiring. 

Next we made our way next into the central White Tower to view the tremendous collection of armor and weaponry. Among the many suits of armor is this jousting ensemble worn by King Henry VIII, complete with giant codpiece.

Anne Boleyn was beheaded in 1536 on or around this spot where a monument stands today. The center of the table holds a glass pillow like the one that would have been placed underneath the executioner's block. 

The Wakefield Tower houses the torture display and includes a full rack. In case you didn't get your fill in the section above, you'll be pleased to see an example of the device on which people were tied with their arms and legs stretched out. The wheels were gradually ratcheted to stretch victims and inflict terrible pain on the joints.

Some chroniclers have said the torture inflicted by the rack pales in comparison to the more portable scavenger's daughter which did had just the opposite effect by binding the victim in a compressed position.

In case children didn't get their fill of the graphic displays, the gift shop at the Tower offers these whimsical little folding paper models. Shoppers can choose between the beheading activity set and the rack action play kit. Click to see them in their full animatronic glory.

Needless to say, after such a gruesome morning, we were famished. We couldn't resist, so we set out for the second day in a row to enjoy another dim sum lunch in Chinatown. The kids were even bolder and Vaughn in particular enjoyed speaking to our server in Mandarin. But Chinatown is not all roasted ducks and squids hanging in the windows. One side street also features the KuKlub, which is licensed to 3 AM and has won some major awards. 

On our way to the Underground we passed by a bunch of commotion which turned out to be the red-carpet London premier of The Expendables 2. We were unable to see over the four-deep crowd but we could hear the shouts as Sly and the guys made their entrances.

Our last big stop of the day was the British Museum where admission is free unless you care to make a donation.

  Homer: And uh, what if I wish to pay ... zero?
  Clerk: That is up to you.
  Homer: Well, anything you say! Good luck, lady, you're gonna need it!

Fortunately, enough people who haven't thrown their money away on sleazy museums of death are willing to make contributions to keep this higher institution of death accessible to all. Keeping in theme, we went straight for the Egyptian wing and were blown away by the vast collection of mummies and mummy-related items.

An excellent display on how mummies were preserved culminated in one of many examples of a mummified body; this one was 3,000 years old (!) and, like many others, still had hair, teeth and nails.

If mummification was a way to bring eternal life to the deceased, the process must be deemed a success in a way.

I was also thrilled to realize that the museum contains the Rosetta stone and the kids and I enjoyed the opportunity to see it in person and learn more about it. The stone contains a decree issued by King Ptolemy I in 196 BC written in triplicate in Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic script and ancient Greek. Before the discovery of the stone in 1799, hieroglyphics had been indecipherable. On display in the British Museum since 1802, the Rosetta Stone led to today's ability to read ancient Egyptian inscriptions and literature confidently.

As a final nod to the Olympic games, we were also pleased to fight through the crowd to get a great look at an example of a pair of gold medals from the 2012 Games.

Exhausted from our biggest day of sightseeing and already mentally composing what (I hope) will probably be the longest post of the entire blog, we hopped on yet another London icon and enjoyed the view from the upper level of a double-decker bus on the ride back to our hotel.


At breakfast in the hotel on Sunday morning, I met a Twins fan and got to talk a little baseball before getting in Olympic mode for the day. We had scouted out a prime spot along the course of the men's marathon and headed straight there once we had our morning's fill of beans and toast.

The course was a circuit that the racers ran three times and we found a spot in the shade on a two-way strip by which the competitors would pass six times during the marathon. We ended up situated next to a family from New Jersey on our right with whom we could root for the American runners but we stayed much longer than planned thanks to a quick friendship we struck up with the Western family from Essex. 

Father Guy and I found a lot of similarities with our mutual at-home dad/weekend warrior lives while mom Hayley, daughters Amelia (14), and Verity (10) along with son George (13) shared treats, stories and impressions of one another's countries that made the experience truly memorable. (Hit us up at, Westerns. We'd love to see you guys again someday!)

Our view of the race, the support vehicles, the media and the fans representing so many different countries gave us a great - and free! - Olympic experience.

We were able to follow the drama on Guy's phone and we were well aware of the battle for first throughout the race. Here's a shot of Ugandan winner Stephen Kiprotich as he passed by us for the last time with just two miles to go.

After the marathon we made our way back to Chinatown for a dim sum lunch that topped any I've enjoyed in the U.S. The kids are all now BBQ-pork-bun fans for life. Unfortunately, Betsy needed to return to Brussels for work on Monday so we dropped her off at the train station after watching a bit of the USA men's gold medal victory over Spain back at the hotel.

After our farewells, the kids and I headed for The Globe to take in a performance of Henry V. The venue is the only thatched-roof structure in all of London; the lone exception to a law enacted after the fire that gutted the city in 1666. Today's Globe is an accurate recreation of the theatre as historians believe it looked in Shakespeare's time and is just a couple of blocks away from the site of the original Elizabethan playhouse.

The venue was amazing and what we saw of the production was superb. We paid only 5 per ticket to be groundlings which gave us a uniquely historical experience but we were required to remain standing throughout the show for safety.

Since visibility and comprehension were both on the low side for Xander, Vaughn and Quinn, I relented and we departed midway through Act II. Sorry, no photos are allowed during the production so I can't show examples of the outstanding period costumes, props and instruments but at least we were allowed plenty of pre-show photography.

On the way back towards the hotel to grab a quick dinner before settling in for the evening to enjoy the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, we passed this giant human body statue on the ever-changing exhibition space in front of the Tate Modern Art Gallery. No privates to be seen, but he is showing plenty of skin...and more. Kids love guts.


We reached London on Friday evening after our first high-speed train ride. We crossed from Calais, France to Great Britain via the Chunnel and the most exciting thing I can say about that is that it was dark. 

The "jolly good" greeting we got as we made our way through immigration told us immediately that we were in a much friendlier atmosphere than the one we left behind. The hosts were enthusiastically "brilliant" in every sense of the word throughout our entire visit to London. 

By the time we completed our first successful navigation of The Underground and struggled our way through a few bouncing-ball-GPS false starts with suitcases and backpacks in tow to finally arrive at our hotel, it was too late to hit a pub. However, we did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night and the front desk was well equipped.

The next morning, we hit the first of our four hotel breakfasts and found out why beans and toast - with a dash of Worschetershire sauce - are a staple of the English diet. It's yummy and they definitely give you a burst of energy (and a multitude of smaller bursts throughout the late morning and early afternoon). 

We set out for a stroll west along the south bank of the Thames on the Queen's Walk with an eye toward getting on the London Eye, the European landmark that Quinn was most excited to visit as we planned our trip months ago. 

On the way to the Eye we were pleased to find that London was pulling its international weight when it came to statuesque statuary.

The giant (and thankfully enclosed) Ferris wheel also didn't disappoint, offering a spectacular view of the city and giving us a birds-eye view of many of the landmarks on our must-see list.

We walked by Westminster Abbey and the Bell Tower (look, kids, Big Ben!) but we opted to keep moving as the lines were pretty long and we wanted to head toward the Olympic-sounding cheers we could hear emanating from Hyde Park. One of the many eager, smiling and helpful volunteers directed us toward the fountain at Buckingham Palace where were were able to experience the thrill of our first live, in-person Olympic event…the men's 50 K race walking event. Man it was some intense walking.

We watched for about five minutes before hoofing it - faster, I think, than a few of the athletes we had just witnessed thanks to some full bladders - to a Westminster Arms, a classic English pub where we shared fish and chips and a steak and ale pie along with a couple of pints for the adults.

We went Underground with growing confidence to ride the rails to Potters Fields in the shadow of the Tower Bridge where a large screen was set up for Olympic viewing.

After enjoying ice cream and some Olympic coverage with a great view of the Tower of London across the Thames, we wanted an ever better look so we made our way across the bridge on foot.

We got great exterior views of the castle walls including a glimpse at the remnants of an 11th century gate before making our way around to today's outer gate called the Middle Tower, the looming presence of which was once made all the more intimidating by the sound of lions from the royal menagerie growling from the interior. 

But more on the Tower later. After a break at the hotel we went to Piccadilly Circus, the Times Square of London, where we emerged from the Underground just as the starter's pistol fired to begin the women's 4x400 relay. Team USA's gold-medal performance was our first chance to whip out our Stars and Stripes and whoop it up with some of our fellow countrymen.

We then enjoyed a deliciously spicy Indian meal before turning a corner and finding ourselves in the middle of Chinatown. We explored the streets for awhile and forced our kids to communicate with some shop owners for our pleasure before heading toward Trafalgar Square where we came upon the drunken revelry of the fans of Team Mexico celebrating their gold-medal soccer victory over Brazil. We had one final cool sight on the way home for the evening as we strolled past a swank balcony party being held at the Russian team's headquarters.

Traveling like this in such close quarters can either make a family stronger or make each member want to sit in a dark closet by him- or herself.  It seems to be having a pretty good effect on the kids. Either that or they're banding together in unity to withstand the constant sightseeing onslaught.

If you need me, check the closet.


Usually when I sit down to make a blog entry I set the kids to work on their worksheets until they finish and move on to watch some Olympics or an episode of their favorite, Bob l'eponge, on TV. Some of the entries have taken me over three hours to complete so the process is made even more enjoyable by sipping on one of the twenty+ varieties of beer I've had the opportunity to sample during our stay. At this pace, I may get through almost fifty different brews before we return and I must say I'm getting pretty spoiled.

On Tuesday, we got out of the flat to visit an indoor pool at the Complexe Sportif Poseidon. Now true Metro experts, we wasted no time in claiming a pole and riding the rails to the Tomberg area with our swim gear loaded into the backpack.

After struggling through the payment and entry procedure during which I was unable to get an answer as to what else was available at the complexe (it turned out to have an ice skating area, a climbing wall, some workout rooms, a gym and a martial arts center), I began to notice some signs informing me that swim caps were not optional we returned to the desk to purchase four of them. Once we muddled our way through the changing area, not quite sure we were ever following the right procedures in the in the right places, we crammed the latex caps onto our heads. 

When we were finally ready to enter the pool area, a lifeguard approached to inform us in French that we weren't wearing proper swimsuits. Barely containing my frustration, we returned to the desk a third time to rent some of the tight lycra swimmers you see above that we were required to wear before getting wet. Yes, I wore the same get up (not pictured). Finally, we entered the actual pool area and begin to frolic until Xander's rapidly swelling eyes reminded us of his latex allergy. With all the commotion, I had failed to take that into account and he was in a lot of discomfort. Fortunately our fourth trip to the admissions desk netted us our fifth swim cap - this one made of polyester - and once Xander got scrubbed down, we were set free. So two hours of swimming, including the subway ride, set us back 30.30 Euros, or about $37.50. There was no chance we were going to explore the rest of the complexe and I was really glad I chose to pack a lunch instead of planning on eating in the cafeteria! In the end, we had a blast and the kids particularly enjoyed pretending they were Olympians, going through all the motions from pre-race introductions to receiving their imaginary medals and bouquets on the podium.

That evening, one of my biggest goals of our visit to Belgium was met as my friend Warren and I practiced with a local baseball club.

The first time Betsy suggested accompanying her for the summer, I immediately searched "baseball in Brussels" and came upon a site for the Kangaroos baseball club. I contacted the group once it became clear we would be making the trip and was disappointed to realize that the 150 Euro "players' license" combined with the fact that we planned so many weekend trips out of the city would preclude me from participating in actual games but was delighted to get an invitation to join them for practice anytime I was able. 

The team plays and practices on a multi-use Sportsturf field that has a decent mound, two dugouts and a storage unit for all of their equipment (they also actually get TWO umpires for their games!). This video provides a flatteringly-edited look at the team and includes a great shot of a Frank Drebin-wannabe behind the plate at 1:10. A few guys from the video were at practice but by and large it was a mix of nationalities and abilities; sport-loving recreational athletes several of whom are still learning the techniques of the game. Unlike when the TCMABL Twins practice, the man in charge ordered two laps around the field to get things going and everyone actually started running. Then we circled up for a lengthy round of calisthenics.

Finally the real action got underway and we ran through a pretty standard infield/outfield followed up by the usual batting practice.  I got some time in center but primarily manned second base despite my lack of a cup, confident that the turf field would provide true enough hops to prevent a repeat of my experience on one of the dirt infields in Minnesota shortly before my departure. "The boys" and I weren't let down and it was great turning two with the slick Japanese shortstop (all white below), definitely the best fielder on the team. There was also a hispanic guy who was pretty sharp (Yankees cap), a professional paintballer built like a tight end who literally just started playing baseball (Nebraska shirt) and the Belgian coach (standing, left) who knew what was up but otherwise it was mostly Bad News Bears.

We finished by doing some base running drills as I worked through mechanics with a couple of aspiring pitchers. It was a great experience and so fun to hear their Franco-Amercan chatter. I heard "I've got eet!" "You need to catch zis ball!" several "Atta boys" and some choice curses that I wish I could remember. For my TCMABL friends; overall the nine guys who stuck it out on Tuesday might be able to give the Entourage a run for their money but it would be close. Only one guy was struck in the head and had to leave to attend to his bloody lip and chipped tooth. Regardless it was great fun and I'm eager to get out again on Thursday night for another go at it.

Finally today we're counting down the days to our Friday train trip to London. We've been checking online daily for an opportunity to pick up some tickets but it's looking like that pretty much won't happen. A breakdown of some of the possibilities:
  • $481 minimum for a single ticket to the men's basketball bronze medal game.
  • $608 minimum for a single ticket to the men's boxing finals.
  • $1,389 per ticket for track and field events on Saturday including finals for the men's 4x400 and 4x100 relays, pole vault, javelin as well as finals for women's high jump, hammer throw, 800m and 4x400 relay.
  • $2,797 per ticket for the closing ceremony which would run $13,985 for the entire family to attend.
Jeez, how about faster, higher, stronger, cheaper?! Unless someone wants to organize some sort of fundraiser on our behalf, here's a preview of us watching the Olympics while we're in London:

Actually we know that we'll be able to explore the public areas and we do have plans on at least getting along the course of the men's marathon so we're sure to have a great time. We're looking into attending a theatrical performance and we have a couple of extra days after the closing ceremonies to hit all the major sights and take in a couple of museums as well. 

Until next time!


Saturday's trip to Monschau, Germany was well worth the ninety-minute drive east over the border that marked the third different country in which the kids have set foot in their short yet remarkable lives. It was a thrill for me to finally get to use the language I studied in school; everyone was a little surprised, including myself, that I was able to give the non-English-speaking waiter a detailed order entirely auf Deutsch and that we received everything we desired! After a deliciously efficient German meal, we set out to explore the town by following the waterway coursing through and underneath the streets.  

Monschau, the "charming gem of the Eifel region," is nestled in a narrow valley of the Rur River. Mentioned in historical texts as early as 1198, it is easy to imagine settlers choosing this location for its beautiful natural resources in the fertile and defensible valley. Today it's a tourist and health-resort destination for Europeans of every nationality.

The town center has many preserved half-timbered houses and the narrow streets have remained unchanged for 300 years. On the heights above the city, Burg Monschau serves as a reminder of the past and a site for modern theatrical and musical performances.

We were thrilled to be among just a handful of tourists exploring the castle that afternoon. Like several sites we've visited, there wasn't a warning sign, security guard or admission desk to be found; we were free to explore the entire grounds independently and make our own history. While I found out later that the fortress was used as a seat for dukes starting in 1433 and that Holy Roman Emperor Charles V besieged it in 1543, none of that mattered as we roamed the raised walls and narrow stone staircases and peeked out of the archers' windows overlooking the valley below.

We're continually surprised and pleased at the lack of excessive safety measures at places like these. Apparently proprieters of sites such haven't been sued enough to decide it would just be easier to lock the gates and restrict access.

After some ice cream bars on the way out of town, we took up an invitation to meet our friends Carlos and Frank for dinner at the sprawling, kid-friendly recreation area in St. Truiden called the Speelhof, or Play Farm. Once a mid-1800's site for aristocratic socializing, it is now a destination for locals to jog through the manicured trails or let loose on a whole bunch of playground equipment that has long since been outlawed in the U.S.

On Sunday morning, we met Betsy's friend Els, her husband Max and their lovely daughters Jill (7) and Anna-Paulina (3) for breakfast in Brussels before caravanning to Luxembourg City for the day as the kids put their fourth pin in the world map. Although the girls speak Russian and Dutch but no English, Quinn became fast friends with both and was eager to ride with them on the two-and-a-half-hour drive southeast into the 20th smallest of the 194 independent countries in the world. 

Bordered by France, Belgium and Germany, Luxembourg is often overlooked as tourist destination but is a true gem. The entire country, which is mentioned in texts as early as 963, is just 999 square miles in size - smaller than the state of Rhode Island (1,545).

Luxembourg has the second highest GDP per capita in the world and it shows in everything from the cleanliness of the streets, the ubiquitous landscaping, the way the carefully-planned modern construction matches the restored infrastructure and the refreshing lack of smokers. The relatively small royal palace is in the center of picture below.

All the tours were sold out for the day so the kids and I hope to return by train one day soon to get a look inside and to visit the subterranean network of catacombs built into the cliffs that once served as defensive passageways.

The capital, Luxembourg City, is situated in a lush and brilliantly-fortified valley at the confluence of the Alzette and Petrusse Rivers and provides the most comprehensive glimpse we've had at an ancient city's defensive walls. Check out the wooden portcullis still ready to be lowered by rope to prevent marauders from entering the city by way of the river.

Max went to graduate school in the city for several months and served as our guide, directing us on a tour that took us over 75% of the downtown historical area in just a single day. There were stunning panoramas and amazing photo opportunities at every turn as we made our way from one side of the city to the other by winding up and down the city walls.

We ended up having long lunch at a British pub where we enjoyed the second half of the women's Olympic marathon before wandering through a street art fair where this organ grinder was plying his trade.

After yet another ice cream purchase (and a Grand Marnier crepe for me), the kids were entranced by this gilded street performer.

Later, we made a stop at a picturesque little park to play several rounds of multilingual hide-and-seek during which all the adults got involved.

It was a much-needed diversion for me in particular as my beloved TCMABL Twins were just getting game-one of their (our) victorious week-eleven double-header sweep underway as they (we) reclaimed first place with just two regular-season games to go. (Keep it up, guys!)

Our route back to the car took us by a historical site of great significance. The building below served as Gestapo headquarters during the Nazi occupation of Luxembourg from 1940-1944.

It was just down the street from the current Romanian Embassy and surrounded by several quaint villas on a tree-lined street overlooking the river. As Max and I passed by and contemplated the site, he asked me, "Can you imagine the two of us walking down this street seventy years ago?" Indeed, my Russian friend and I would both have been shot on sight instead of strolling casually past this building, snapping photos with our wives and children. The plaque at lower left, by my rough translation, reminded people "when you pass here, thank the patriots who fought the Nazi terror of this house for freedom in our homeland." How fortunate we are to enjoy the liberties and conventions of daily life thanks to the sacrifices of our predecessors.


As I write this on Monday evening, the kids and I have had another lazy beginning to our week...a load of laundry, a stack of worksheets, plenty of Olympic coverage on the TV and an afternoon visit to the cinema for Ice Age 4 (as lame as that franchise is in English it was even more difficult to sit through in French). In addition to the BBC and Belgian Olympic coverage, we have also found the French and Netherlandish channels, affording us a unique glimpse into the European view of the Olympics. While many people complain that NBC covers only American athletes and stories, I can tell you that the grass is not greener on the other side. Studio hosts and live look-ins on every channel unavoidably focus on events and athletes of national interest and we feel we've enjoyed even less exposure to stories of global interest. Trust me, even though we get everything live by being in this time zone, the wider coverage and production value that U.S. viewers have access to are definitely better than what we are seeing. I should, however, eat my previous words and acknowledge that Team GB has vaulted from 21st to third in the overall medal standings. Still, we plan on making fools of ourselves at whatever events we can attend this coming weekend in London with our Stars and Stripes and fist-pumping chants of "USA! USA! USA!" whenever possible.  


Monday was a quiet day as we got sucked into the excitement of the Olympics and spent much of the afternoon absorbed in equestrian, judo, fencing swimming, tennis and gymnastics coverage. The BBC doesn't do nearly as well as NBC with their on-screen information and replays so we really have to pay attention. Of course, the focus is heavy on Team GB and their stunning 21st-place effort this far but we do get to see the American stars and their events as well. 

We're trying to be a bit more frugal during the week as the weekends are typically filled with extraordinary plans but we still got out for some fun with a visit to our favorite nearby park where the kids enjoyed making Krabby Patties in the sand play area before we played a little soccer, er, football with some locals. 

On Tuesday, we visited the Museum of Musical Instruments in the beautifully refurbished Old England building just a block west of the Place Royale. Originally constructed in 1898, the building housed a department store until it fell into disrepair in the late 70's. Recognized as one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the city, the building was refurbished in the late 90's and officially opened as the museum in 2000. The top floor features a cafe with a marvelous view of the city and one can stand in each of the heptagonal observation rooms off the upper floors visible on the left side of the picture below.

The gallery was filled with hundreds of fascinating instruments from around the world and visitors plug headphones into various listening stations at each display to hear them being played. Virtually all of the descriptive information was in French and Flemish and they did not have any English supplemental material but it was still well worth our time. One of the first displays we saw was a collection of Chinese instruments and the boys started doing Tai Chi as soon as they plugged in.

The oldest piece was a shoulder harp from Egypt that was crafted around 1500 B.C. and many other instruments dated back hundreds of years. There were reconstructions of an ancient Greek lyre and horns found in the ruins of Pompeii. This Transylvanian gardon wasn't one of the oldest examples but it certainly looked like something that might have been plucked by one of the Brides of Dracula in a dark corner of the count's castle. 

We saw many bizarre and unusual examples such a glass harmonica - a series of glass bowls on a rod that one rubs with wet fingertips to play - designed by Ben Franklin, a drum made out of a human skull, bagpipes made from animal bladders, a violin made from a wooden shoe, a kit violin small enough to fit in a coat pocket and a harpsichord that could fold up and be carried like a suitcase. We had seen a busker playing a horn-violin (below) just days earlier on the street in Brugge. This trombone with seven bells made by Adolphe Sax of Dinant (see Day 6) threatened to replace the slide trombone at one point but it was hard to play and even harder to construct.

Other items that held special interest for us were original saxophones made by Adolphe Sax and a chandelier made out of serpents, unique wind instruments the boys learned about in the Handel lesson of their BRAVO music classes at school. In addition, the many unique keyboard instruments on the top floor were almost irresistible to our young pianists but we did manage to follow all of the ne pas toucher signs. 

There were also excellent displays of how a piano is made and a recreation of a cozy little violinist's workshop.

The Pizza Hut lunch buffet we hit after the museum stung to the tune of 40 Euros. A trip to the salad bar apparently costs extra and I got admonished for not understanding how to put pizza on one plate and salad on another. I then realized everyone around us was eating their pizza with knives and forks and - gasp! - failing to use a clean plate on return trips so we felt obligated to do the same. The uncouth Americans strike again.

After that, a trip to a decent-sized grocery for some home-cooking supplies seemed in order. Of course, we bought way too much and I had to lug about 80 pounds, er, 36 kilos of food and drinks on my back about ten blocks back to the flat. 

That evening upon Betsy's return, we enjoyed a much-needed frolic at the beautiful Parc de Woluwe just east of the city.

The boys and I finally got out our baseball gear for a lengthy workout as Betsy and Quinn explored the surrounding woods.

It was a lovely way to end another great day in Belgium before we returned "home" to watch the end of the women's gymnastics domination and Michael Phelps getting medal number nineteen.

Wednesday marks our first foray into the Metro, the local subway system, as we will finally explore some of the city beyond the mile-or-so radius that has kept us so busy. I am hopeful we take the right train to the right place and don't end up in Antwerp in a few hours. Wish us luck!