A Visit with Friends

After our very quick trip to New York, we returned to Belgium only to immediately leave the country again. This time we headed “next door” to France. We arrived home to Belgium on Thursday. Then we left again on Saturday.

We met some friends at the most amazing zoo I’ve ever seen… Darcy (friend) and Todd (my husband) both work for the same company, but she has been in France for 11 years. She is married to an Italian and they have beautiful twin daughters. Darcy recommended we meet at the zoo – it’s about halfway between our place in Belgium and their place in France.

There is no way I can do justice to this zoo. At the end of the day, we converted our day passes to season tickets. The zoo is incredible!

We saw capybaras, which are the largest rodents in the world. My kids have loved them since we read Capyboppy over 2 years ago. We still watch videos about capybaras on a fairly regular basis – they left a lasting impression! This was the kids’ first chance to see one in person. I am sure the capybaras are unaccustomed to children screaming and jumping up and down to see them, but I hope they felt extra special that day.

This capybara weighed about 100 pounds. It’s hard to tell at this distance, but he definitely weighs more than our dog.

The viewing area for the giraffes has a clever design. We were able to see them from the sidewalk, but there is also a wooden platform around the base of a tree that elevates you high enough that you are nearly as tall as the giraffes, so you can see their sweet faces. The ostriches share the space with the giraffes. The ostriches seemed enormous even standing next to the tall giraffes – but they moved too fast for my camera. I cannot believe some people actually ride them, though the birds are certainly strong enough.

We also saw bald eagles, koalas, a Bengal tiger, camels, lions, gorillas, and elephants – Indian and African. There was also a baby Indian elephant, but I was too far away for decent photos.

Laine and Isaac had a great weekend playing with the twins. Laine enjoyed being the “big girl” for a change and adored both of the girls. They had a great time with her, too.

“Here comes the hippo!” (I have better pics of the hippo swimming by, but this was such an exciting moment for all 4 of the kids that I had to share).
Giving her friend a little boost

The areas for the animals at the zoo were truly remarkable. The birds were kept in by netting overhead. But the areas for the animals was reminiscent of their areas of origin, which was really neat. I think the most shocking one for me was the kangaroo exhibit. We were 10-12 feet from the baby kangaroo and there was nothing between us except a small sign warning us to keep off the grass. We could easily have all but reached out to touch the baby if we’d wanted to get kicked by its mother.

No rails or fences between us!

To top of a fantastic day of animal watching, we stopped by the play area to let the kids burn off a bit more steam before putting them in the car. The climbing areas were unbelievable. Isaac climbed to the top of one and then was able to find Laine for me when she slipped out of my sight (still inside the play area).

To give you a bit of a frame of reference for Isaac on top of this, note the full-grown man walking under the climbing structure. It was high enough that he didn’t even need to duck under it. Isaac scrambled all the way up and waved down to me.

Even after hours at the zoo and visiting so many animals, we only saw about 1/3 of the exhibits. We also learned that they’re open on Sunday, so I am certain we’re going to return.

After the zoo, we headed to Lille to spend the night. Once the kids were fed and off to bed, the adults enjoyed some handmade pizza and catching up on ex-pat life. The next morning, the kids got to have an Easter egg hunt and they were kind enough to share a (tiny) bit of chocolate with us. We spent a gorgeous morning at the park and enjoyed a wonderful late lunch with our friends before heading back home to Leuven. We hope to host the same friends at our place sometime soon.

The kids led the way back after our visit to the neighborhood park.

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