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.     


After Betsy left to drive to work solo in Europe for the first time, the kids and I set off to find the Palais Royale and adjoining Parc de Bruxelles. After getting a little turned around, we asked a local how to get to the palace. He laughed and asked us, "Which palace? There are palaces everywhere!" The man is right. Almost every street seems to end in a glorious edifice that seems to be or have been home to nobility. 

Below is the palace which is home to Albert II, the sixth and current King of the Belgians
and his family. We witnessed the changing of the guard but were unable to get too close as the grounds were being prepared for Saturday's big celebration. July 21 is the anniversary of the coronation of the first King (1831) and is accompanied by parades, displays, food and fireworks. We'll try to get in the middle of all the action in just a few days to see all the pomp and circumstance. We did manage to get in a free display in a side building that showed the history of dining at the palace. We saw lavish place settings and learned some interesting tidbits about the development of fine cuisine.

Before we made our way to the palace, we made a lunch of french bread, ham and cheese in the park. It's something I remember doing with my parents in France in 1979 and is something I've wanted to do ever since. Sculptures were dispersed throughout the grounds depicting all of the Belgian institutions; beer, fries, mussels, chocolate and brussels sprouts including this Borg version of the cruciferous bud.

Midway through our lunch I made the mistake of asking a passerby wearing a Yankees cap (I've seen several guys sporting Yankees gear but no other U.S. sports teams. Too easy, people.) and a USA sweatshirt if he was American. He wasn't, but he was only too happy to share his story. 

Over the course of about an hour as we ate and then strolled together, this man told me about ten years spent in a Soviet prison, warned me that Belgium is run by the mafia and asked me to contact John McCain on his behalf. He wrote down the number for McCain's office (and a lawyer in Santa Monica) from memory. I gave him an apple in exchange for a nice map of the city and we bade each other farewell.

Then we saw more boobs.

On the way home we entered the Eglise Notre Dame au Sablon. It's a chapel that was built in the 15th century with 50-foot stained glass windows and is a Dan Brown fantasy come to life. There are ancient inscriptions, crypts and displays throughout the sanctuary and the woodwork and statues are filled with detail and passion. The kids were all silently awestruck by what they saw and the visit led to a nice discussion about Jesus' life and death.

Of course, just because we're halfway across the world, we're not going to let the young 'uns off the hook from their piano, language and math studies. Our flat is already home away from home.