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.
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!