Today we successfully used a Metro day pass, taking three different jaunts and only hopping on one wrong train!
Thanks to Betsy's French and some helpful passers-by, our first train took us to the far north side of the main loop where we walked one short block to the Canal of Brussels and the tenth edition of the city's temporary summer "beach."
There were no swimming opportunities but plenty of sand and a few other kid-friendly activity areas. The best features were the international food and drink stands all the way up and down the strip. That day, however, we chose to pack our usual lunch of french bread, ham and cheese so we mostly just enjoyed the smells...except for the mojito I sipped on while the kids frolicked in the sand.
After our second foray underground, we emerged at the Botanical Gardens of Brussels. The six-hectacre gardens, originally opened in 1829 to great fanfare, includes a central domed rotunda and numerous sculptures which were added in the late 1890's.
In 1938 most of the botanical resources were removed to the National Botanic Garden of Belgium on the grounds of Bouchout Castle just north of the city - a spot we hope to visit soon. The original site we saw Wednesday now stands as a cultural center while the historical statues and much of the garden is still intact.
We found the building, fountains and walkways quite run down but one did get a sense of what a gathering place the garden must have been in its heyday. The trees, hedges and flowers were mostly well maintained and there was still a cafe in the rotunda serving food and drinks (of course) as well as a museum displaying historical photographs.
We stayed aboveground to walk a few blocks south to what appeared to be a very grand cathedral on our map of Brussels and passed by a striking monument known as the Congress Column. The monument, completed in 1859, memorializes several different stages of Belgian history from the statue of King Leopold I atop the column to the tomb of the unknown soldiers of the World Wars at the base. It also commemorates the founding of Belgium in 1830 and the statues at the foot of the structure symbolize the various liberties guaranteed under the country's constitution.
We weren't disappointed as we turned the corner and first saw La Cathedrale des Saints Michel-et-Gudule. Of all of the places of worship we've visited thus far, this was the most awe-inspiring.
The stations of the cross were sculptures carved into alcoves along the outer walls, twelve of the columns lining the main aisle of the sanctuary were adorned with large statues of the apostles, the woodwork on the pulpits and confessionals were remarkably intricate and the modern pipe organ soared up to the ceiling. The cathedral in its current form was built between 1226 and 1276 and the facade was completed in the mid-fifteenth century.
The site is even older, however, as a chapel dedicated to St. Michael was built here as early as the 9th century. Visitors can walk underneath the main floor to see the foundations of the church built around 1047 that replaced the first one. You can touch the actual walls at ground-level from Romanesque times and see graffiti that was scratched into the stone hundreds of years ago. The picture below was on a display underground and shows how they excavated the original site. The two squares at lower left were crypts that are still open for viewing and bones were visible inside them.
We made it home despite getting on the wrong subway line for our last leg of the journey. I realized it quickly so we switched trains and got to the flat in time for the evening Olympic coverage. Betsy enjoyed a special night out when she and her good friend from work, Els Dedobeleer, shared a wonderful meal at Cook and Book. Their evening concluded with an elegant tea serving and a photo-bomber.
We brought along plenty of art supplies and the kids have enjoyed expressing their excitement about their adventures on paper. Below are Quinn's rendition of the gargantuan Palace of Justice and Vaughn's map of one our most frequently-travelled routes through the city.
A few new thoughts and observations about living here...
Some Europeans, upon visiting the U.S., comment that Americans are so friendly. Well it's not that we're necessarily friendlier, it's just that we acknowledge one another in public. I'm used to passing by someone or sharing an elevator and exchanging a smile or a nod of the head. Here, I notice that if I do happen to make eye contact with someone, their countenance typically doesn't change from a distracted frown. It's not a big deal, but perhaps as a parent who's usually accompanied by three energetic youngsters I suppose I've become accustomed to a little more geniality. I'll just keep smiling and saying hello to people and maybe it'll rub off.
I've been struggling to decipher the worn-out pictograms on our combination oven/microwave appliance in our flat. I was unable to find any use guides online so I sought the help of our landlord. A day later, he was kind enough to send over a manual...in Dutch. Unfortunately, I'm still not entirely certain how to properly use the bedeiningspaneel for regelmatig schoonmaken but at least I can make things hot.
We've learned that every time we leave the flat, we'd each better have two things; a full bottle of water and an empty bladder. Water fountains are almost nowhere to be seen and you have to pay to use the toilet just about anywhere you go. Unless, of course, you're male and able to let go in public at one of the open urinal stands we've come across from time to time.
Finally, it had been way too long since we came across some statuesque mammaries so we were delighted to find this young colossal couple in a nude embrace outside a financial building near the Botanical Gardens.