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.

The boys and I finally got out our baseball gear for a lengthy workout as Betsy and Quinn explored the surrounding woods.

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! 


Since we slept in until noon on Sunday, we decided to change our plans a little and swap the day's planned trip to Cologne for a closer excursion to Dinant, just over an hour southeast of Brussels by car. The steep cliffs and rolling hills on the bank of the river made the town a strategic fortification in the past and a charming tourist destination today. This rock, le rocher Bayard, stands completely separated from the main rock and was separated with an explosion to provide passage for the French troops of Louis XIV after they took Dinant. Legend says that a giant Bayard horse split the rock with its hoof as it jumped from here over the river. It's a tight squeeze and probably yet another reason we haven't seen any Escalades or Suburbans around here.

Populated since neolithic times, the name Dinant was first recorded about 800 BC. Located on the Muese River, the town is famous for the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame and the fortified cliff-top Citadel overlooking the entire valley. 

The church, originally completed in the 10th century, was damaged by rocks falling from the cliff in 1227 and was rebuilt in Gothic style on the existing foundation. Though it has undergone several reconstructions and renovations due to various battles, some of the stained glass windows date from the late 15th century. The detail and storytelling in this giant example were captivating.

The signature pear-shaped dome was originally completed in 1566 and the tomb of Gérard de Blanmostier in the left transept is dated 1356. The interior is filled with artwork and relics, including the first genuine crown any of us had ever seen!

We declined to climb the 408-step staircase - which was built in 1577 - for the modern convince of the steepest cable car ascent in the world to get to the top of the cliff for a tour of the citadel.

The fortress has been a central point for some very dramatic clashes throughout history. In 1466, Charles the Bold sacked Dinant. The town and castle were destroyed and he ordered 800 workers to be tied together in pairs and tossed into the river. The citadel was rebuilt in 1523 and the town flourished until Louis XIV's army invaded and took control. He and his engineers made many improvements to the castle but what we see today is a product of the Dutch who rebuilt it after it was destroyed between 1818 and 1821. We really enjoyed seeing the archers windows and imagining firing arrows down on advancing marauders as well as looking out cannon openings like this one defending the bridge below.

Most of the artifacts inside were from the early 19th century as the fortress housed WWI-era soldiers and their supplies. Below is a guardroom in the prison section of the fortress. 

The prisoners weren't captured enemies. Rather, they were soldiers or villagers who were being punished for various misdeeds. It wasn't clear if the guillotine we saw in the torture room was ever used here but the axe and chopping block "used to cut off the right hand of people who murdered their parents" definitely was.

The fortress was demilitarized in 1868 to allow tourists to visit the area for views like this from the terrifying observation deck.

However, violent conflicts were fought within the walls during both World Wars, including a harrowing account of almost 100 soldiers cornered in a narrow passage and fighting each other hand-to-hand with bayonets to the death in August, 1914. Here's the effect of German shells on the town in WWI.

Dinant is also the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, a flautist and clarinetist who, in 1844, introduced the saxophone to the world.

There's no doubt we were among the only Americans in town even though it was a busy Sunday afternoon. While Dinant is a tourist destination for Europeans, it's a rare stop for US visitors. Fortunately we were able to blend in nicely by making like the locals.