*Sigh* Another day, another round of museums, another delicious meal, another new beer.

Now at the halfway point of our European epic, we have settled into the advantageous routine of relaxed travel. The freedom we've had to leisurely enjoy Brussels and the surrounding towns instead of frantically barnstorming from sight to sight has made us realize that this, whenever possible, is the way to do it.

On Wednesday afternoon, the kids and I set off on foot to visit the Belgian Centre of Comic Strip Art and to see what we could see along the way. Just around the corner from La Cathedrale des Saints Michel-et-Gudule, we noticed signs for the gratis Museum of the National Bank of Belgium. Since the price was right, we went in!

Housed in the former headquarters of the bank, the museum walks visitors through the history of banking and money in Europe as well as a chronicle of the National Bank itself. We got to see the office of the governor of the bank, which had been left unchanged since the bank moved to its current location. Very fancy.

The most interesting exhibits for us included ancient coins and other items used as money over the centuries, examples of every different European currency replaced by the Euro and a hands-on display of the effects of inflation over the decades since 1860 on coal, meat, bread, butter, cheese and - of course - beer.

Bank documents from the rich and famous were also on display, including these papers ascribed to shareholder Victor Hugo, writer of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The signed, handwritten note on the left is dated 1881. 

Next stop was the comic strip museum. Situated in the beautiful Art Nouveau setting of a Waucquez Warehouse once occupied by cloth wholesalers, the building was renovated in the late 1980's with several areas made in the fashion of notable interiors direct from the pages of the nation's most beloved comics. 

Needless to say, we made a beeline for the Tintin area where we enjoyed character charts, props from the stories, a display of Tintin collectibles through the years and biographical information on Georges Remi (switch the initials around and you get the authors pseudonym, Hergé - below, right). 

The museum also presents a history of the development of comics and a variety of other prominent authors and their characters. We were so motivated by our visit that we stopped by the Comics Cafe we visited on Day 3 to peruse their collection of books and enjoy the open selection of colored pencils and papers. Vaughn was so inspired that he ended up completing by the following morning a full comic book titled Alex's Advéntures.

As we walked back to the flat, we passed through the historic indoor shopping arcade called the Koninginnegalerij. Packed with opulent shops including a boutique entirely devoted to champagne and a purse store with one displayed in the window next to a 3,800€ price tag ($4,688!), the covered shopping street is thought to be the oldest in Europe (1847). I gave into temptation and purchased my first Belgian candy from somewhere besides a grocery store (all of which offer a vast array of excellent sweets) and we left with a box of sumptuous chocolate liqueurs. 

In the evening, we all went out to dinner with our friends, Carlos and Frank. We randomly picked an outdoor eatery by the bowling alley we intended to visit afterwards and enjoyed what will probably be our last extravagant meal out in Brussels. 

So I made sure it counted and satisfied my desire to enjoy a couple of national dishes with a big bowl of steamed mussels and an order of steak tartare, which is pretty much just a pile of finely chopped raw beef.

It was something I've always wanted to try and it made for a memorable meal. Both of the boys sampled a bite and I think they enjoyed it, but they tell me they wouldn't rush to find it again any time soon. The dinner was one of the best we've had, topping the the roasted quail stuffed with morel and sweetbreads I enjoyed two days prior. And now, I promise, no more foodie talk...for at least a few entries.

Finally I leave you to bask in our immature delight at some of the local art we passed during the day's wanderings. I'm not sure whether the guys below are wrestling or embracing, but at least they're naked. I also have no information on why the Weeble Wobble has her boobs out but she's clearly a hottie!


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!


With no plans today save for finding that first good glass of Belgian beer, the kids and I hit the town once again as Betsy drove to the office for another day of international success. We had noticed a skate park during our day-one stroll and decided to pack up the scooters and see if we could find it again. Xander, Vaughn and Quinn really enjoyed zipping around when I wasn't borrowing one of their scooters.

The skate park was right in the shadow of the Eglise Notre-Dame de la Chapelle, a church that has a posted roster of pastors dating back to 1278. 

Once again the paintings, sculptures and woodwork throughout the interior brought a quiet reverence to all three kids during our lengthy visit. The artwork, while often morbid and depressing, is nonetheless inspiring with its antiquity and stunning detail. This is a marble skeleton greeting visitors near the front of the sanctuary.    

After lunch at the flat, we ventured out with little in mind other than to check out a nearby Metro stop for next week's more distant explorations as well as a park and some sort of large castle-like structure we could see on a city map. The park turned out to be extremely cool, with a maze of little wooden shacks, ladders slides, climbing ropes and swings.

One of the shacks was labeled "Ale House" with a foaming beer mug sign over it and, unlike America's ridiculously safe playgrounds, this area was a lawsuit waiting to happen. We loved it and I'm sure we'll make it a frequent stop.

The park led to the Porte de Hal, a 14th century city gate from the second set of defensive walls that once enclosed Brussels. Most of the other gates were demolished but this one survived since it was used as a prison, customs house, grain silo and church over the years before it went through numerous renovations to become the historical site and museum it is today. At the bottom of the picture you can see the original 600-year old structures that housed a portcullis and drawbridge over a moat. We rolled up right at closing so will be back soon to visit the exhibitions inside.

The lights and sound of a local street carnival then attracted our attention. We rode the giant slide a couple of times and made our way down the strip to soak it in.

We got our first order of Belgian fries and dove in.

It was just like being on the midway at an American state fair but there was no spandex, everyone was smoking, several stands were selling escargot (didn't try it yet), the carnival game prizes included very realistic toy knives and guns and - finally! - there were boobs.

Once the hardworking breadwinner of the family returned to the flat and had a chance to unwind, we set out on foot to find a place to eat. We had heard about a nearby restaurant in Sablon that was full of Tintin stuff and we were delighted to come across it. The Comics Cafe was filled with tons of really cool artwork with an emphasis on the great Hergé. There were framed original Tintin sketches and way too many things that I want to go back and buy. But tonight was about enjoying our first real Belgian meal and it couldn't have been much better. Betsy and I shared a couple of Karmeliet beers and we dove in family-style to orders of beer-braised beef with fries, tandoori scallops and filet of sea bass. It was a very memorable meal and the upstairs reading and drawing area is a place the kids and I will quickly get back to.

A couple of notes after a few days:

I haven't inhaled as much second-hand tobacco smoke in the last five years in the U.S. as I have already here. I forgot how much I particularly hate smelling it while I eat and am delighted that our country has banned smoking from most public places. 

As the kids and I stroll around, we have been stopped several times by people asking for directions or chatted up by locals. I am pleased that we don't appear to be tourists and hope that we continue to blend in. Of course, as soon as I open my mouth, the deception is revealed. 

Cheers from the Comic City!


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!