Jet lag kept us in the flat today until well after one p.m. (4 a.m. at home) today. But when we finally got out we hit the local grocery for some sandwich supplies and headed straight for the Parc de Bruxelles across from the Palais Royal. It was exciting to see all of the preparations for the annual National Day, celebrated every July 21 to commemorate the anniversary of the coronation of Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians. Food stalls, military vehicles, parade routes, banners, activities and displays were all being set up. We still managed to find a quiet place by a bandshell in the park to enjoy our lunch.

The park also included a small playground where the youngsters got to enjoy a rare see-saw ride. Try to find one of these in the U.S. and if you do you can probably successfully sue the local parks & recreation department for negligence for allowing such a dangerous device to exist!

We then went across the street to the Belvue Museum, a tour through the underground history of the area surrounding the Palais Royal in the heart of Brussels. In the 17th century, the local nobility wanted to build homes, gardens and more convenient roads around the palace so it was decided that the area should be leveled. Many of the existing structures were simply lopped off at the desired high point and new buildings were built above them. The Belvue Museum winds under the palace, a nearby chapel and centuries-old catacombs to reveal an unseen side of the city. We saw arches built in the 1500s over walls from the 1200s leading to cellars used in the 1700s.

One pillars had quarry markings on it from 1362.

We walked over cobblestones that were laid in the 1600s and imagined walking through pathways guarded by armed knights of medieval times.

All three kids thought it was pretty cool to squat on a toilette from olden times...

...but didn't find it so cool to imagine being the one to clean out the cesspool conduit at the end of the line!

The archeological teams that unearthed the hidden rooms and pathways beneath the city also recovered a variety of items including bone combs and brushes, porcelain pipes, glassware, plates, dishes, and iron work like ancient hinges, nails and those in the display below which includes a chamber pot, a cannon and a helmet and visor. 

One eye-catching feature of the Belgian streets (when you're not dodging the zooming vehicles) are the crosswalks. Instead of painting some of the cobblestones white, the city has used pearly-white marble - perhaps from buildings and monuments that have been demolished or renovated - to stand out as the proper pedestrian zones.

Tonight was a Friday so when Betsy returned from work we wanted to find a way to celebrate the weekend with an evening of fun. We headed back to the carnival strip the kids and I had visited the day before to enjoy the scene and ride a few rides. Xander had the guts to hop on a twisting, turning, upside-down, gut-wrenching adventure with me before we enjoyed watching Betsy, Vaughn and Quinn on a fast-paced boat ride that had them spinning in circles.

My iPhone flew out of my pocket midway through my ride with Xander but it's still alive. The second major lickin' it's taken...but it keeps on ticking'!

While the kids were happy to point out a few boobs I missed yesterday on the carnival-ride backgrounds, we really didn't see any stunning new bosoms worth a new picture. I am hopeful that tomorrow will bring a variety of ample busts for me to immortalize in the blog.

Tomorrow we have a very exciting day planned with a stop by the Atomium - the "Symbol of Brussels" - as well as a visit to Flanders and a return to the festivities of National Day including the evening fireworks. 

Speaking of (stupid) Flanders, we caught an episode of Les Simpson this evening before we hit the carnival and enjoyed hearing the voices of the characters. Marge, Bart and Lisa were great but you just can't match Dan Castalanetta as Homer.

Finally, I must take a moment to acknowledge the atrocity committed in Colorado. It is an international story and obviously our day has been darkened by the terrible news. Our thoughts are with the victims of the sickening massacre and we can only hope that such an event will strengthen everyone's resolve to be vigilant and safe for ourselves and compassionate and kind to others.     


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!