Thursday, March 12, 2009

Brussels

We are here, in Belgium, so how can we skip the capital of it all, Brussels?

We definitely can't. We spent the day Tuesday resting up in Oostende - our big activity was grocery shopping, teaching the kids how to play UNO and attempting (unsuccessfully) to upload shots and blogs so we wouldn't come home and be so far behind. (You can see how well that worked out) We also did some research on what we wanted to do for the rest of the week since I hadn't managed to pull that all off before we left. Well as soon as I got online, my phone messaged me that it was going to cost 35 Euros for this. Well, I thought, that seems rather ridiculous but, as it is too late, I might as well just go for it! So I went ahead for about an hour. Would I have mentioned this anectdote if there wasn't more to the story? Of course not. When we got home, my phone stopped working completely. Then I had Andre' call to find out why. It seems, so they claim, that we haven't paid our bill. What bill? Well, it turns out, they were charging us 35 Euros per 12 minutes on line (mind you, on a connection that was slow and was unable to upload our photos). That was for a grand total of 165 Euros. If we had ordered this online access before our vacation, it would have cost us 20 Euros. We tried to fight it, even enlisting real French people to try to talk them out of this insanity (I mean, come on - 3 Euros per minute!!!) but no good. We might have to organize a greve.


OK, back to the fun part of vacation. Luckily, Belgium is small and so Brussels is only an hour's drive from our homebase of Oostende. We allowed ourselves to sleep in, packed a lunch and hit horrible traffic, getting there around 11:30am. After wandering past some impressive, unidentifiable by name (sorry) buildings in the car, we finally found a parking space (used a garage to be safe) and headed for the Grand Plaza. This was billed, by one seasoned wanderer, as 'the most beautiful place in Europe'. Of course, we had to check that out. On the way we passed this giant traffic cone and I stopped and actually paid money for a souvenir - a ceramic teal blue icon from the 50's in a crazy, overflowing antique shop. Then we made it to the Plaza. Well, I wouldn't say it was the most gorgeous I've ever seen, but it was definitely the most gilded. Very ornate and, as the kids said, lots of stuff all over the buildings was "dipped in gold". We spent a few minutes enjoying the stained glass in the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral and then toured the museum housed in the former royal palace. Andre' and Zander spent a long time poring over a set of 2 or 3 models of the town featuring how it has changed over the centuries. It is quite amazing to see how a bunch of little farms is transformed into such a bustling metropolis. Meanwhile, I was especially amused by the entire wing devoted to a local statue named Manneken-Pis. (WARNING-body parts named ahead). This is a fountain where the water streams from a little cherub's penis. There are about 8 different legends of why this statue was built. I read them all outloud to the kids - they love fairy tales. Read all about it yourself on (where else) wikipedia..... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manneken_Pis. Shockingly, this site doesn't include my favorite legend about the little pee boy - which includes a witch - you can find that one at: http://www.belgiumview.com/belgiumview/tl3/view0004164.php4
Then we headed over towards the Palais Royal passing lots and lots of graffiti. This city had a real issue with graffiti - it was everywhere - on monuments, buildings and even (true) on some of the bushes in a garden we wandered through. The kids enjoyed climbing up this, this, thing that was in the gardens (sculpture, I guess?). I'm not sure the artist would have approved. Then we bumped into the MIM - the Musical Instrument Museum. It was housed in this amazing old department store 'a jewel of the art nouveau style' according to the brochure. There also was a giant brain stuck to the top of it - not so sure this really melded well with the rest of the place.... We took an old fashioned elevator up to the top, where there was a restaurant. We snuck past the paying clientele to check out some great views of the city. The opportunity to hear so much music was incredible! The MIM houses over 7000 different instruments and, when you enter, you get a set of headphones. As you stand in front of each case of instruments, the music they make plays on your headphones (it's like, an infrared sensor system - wicked). The kids, especially Zander, loved it. They wanted to hear each and every instrument they had. They had hundreds I had never heard of before or had read about (like a sitar) and never seen examples of. I really liked this upright piano - what a space saver - too bad that idea was abandoned. They also had an area in the basement where they could bang away at a piano etc...
Afterwards we walked past the Palais Royal and saw the official changing of the guards. What pomp and circumstance. Then, the best part of the trip, real, Belgian waffles off the truck parked on the square. These are so definitely NOT over rated! Then it was back to the car. This is a shot of the kids running around and screaming whilst inside the parking garage. We let them do that before they have to get in the car (yet again) on the theory that blowing off steam will somehow help them be calmer and kinder whilst driving. (Hasn't really been working, but you can't blame us for the effort) Other ideas are always being searched for by moms like me. I mean, we would have liked to get them some GAA. (General Automatic Amusement) We passed their giant factory but, as you can see, it was closed for the day. We got home in time for dinner which featured local fish (fabulous) and Belgian fries (to die for) also bought off a truck. Do you realize that French fries were invented in Belgium? That's right folks, they are NOT french! How unfair to have such a name. I thought it was ridiculous when people started calling them freedom fries back around 9/11 - but now I think we should rename them - I know the nice alliteration is lost but, by golly, it should be Belgian fries! (hmmm.... how about b-fries 0r, even better, fry-B's. Try it out - "Hey kids, want fry-B's with your dinner?")

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