Animals Animals!

Back in April, a friend introduced us to an amazing zoo: Pairi Daiza. When we visited the first time, we traded in our day passes for season tickets. Now we’ve been to the zoo 3 times. The second time, we went by ourselves on a Sunday afternoon.

There are a lot of things I love about the zoo. The spaces for the animals all feel large. There’s plenty of room for the animals to move around. Most of them also feel accessible, though, such as walking through the Australian area with nothing between you and the animals. Another way they break up the spaces is with architecture. Each area has buildings around and through it to help it resemble the specific part of the world where the animals originate.

There are Bengal tigers and Indian elephants over there! Similar buildings can be found in some areas of India.

The architecture definitely adds to the experience, but the animals are the star of the show. Unless you ask my kids. They might say the epic playground is actually the star! There are enormous bird nests above the playground, though, and the storks love them, so it still feels like a part of the zoo.

This was a particularly exciting spotting for us as the kids and I had recently finished reading Sticks Across the Chimney. Having a stork build its nest above your chimney is considered good luck in some places in Scandinavia. People have been known to place old wagon wheels and all sorts of things to encourage the birds to build.

One of the animals first animals we visited was the otters. They’re so lively! There are 3 in the enclosure at Pairi Daiza and they would run across the ground, dive in the water, swim across, and climb out to do it again. They looked like they were having a wonderful time. Their space has a glass front to it, so even as they swam under water, we were still able to see them when they approached the glass. After observing them from beside the enclosure, we climbed up for a different perspective.

This fellow climbed out of the water, raised up on his back legs, and chattered away at us before diving back into the water for another swim.
The building to the left is where we stood to talk with Mr. Otter.

The treehouse above was intriguing, but off limits. We were wondering whether we could get in and instead worked our way over to the bird enclosures.

We walked in through a gate and were inside the enclosure with the birds. It’s enormous! At ground level, we saw these flamingos. There were also roseate spoonbills not far away.

There was a vast array of different types of birds. It was breathtaking! But one of the coolest features is the rope bridge. You can see it ascending in the background of the photo above.

Up we go!

The rope bridge goes up inside the netting for the bird enclosure. You get an incredible view below of the birds. It’s a little wobbly, too, which adds to the adventure. The foot bridge is one direction, so once you start up, you’re committed to finishing. There’s a gate at the top as you exit the bird enclosure. Then you wander down from there and end up on the opposite side of the park’s creek.

Walking on this bridge was my favorite part of the day. It was so neat!

Upon our descent, we decided to head for the Asian animals. Again, the architecture helps you to shift your mindset about where these animals are native.

It’s a tea room!

The red panda is native to the Himalayas and southwestern China. It’s also downright adorable. There are only about 10,000 in the wild, so they are on the endangered species list.

They were much smaller than I expected, but so fluffy!

These pandas are only distantly related to the giant pandas with which we’re all familiar. Their faces remind me more of a raccoon than a giant panda, though. They’re fantastic climbers and are known to descend trees head first!

This red panda is in a separate enclosure from the first.

The long covered walkways meander through this area of the zoo. It’s a great way to allow a lot of people to see the animals at the same time, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. At least as a person walking… I have no idea how the red panda feels about it.

We walked deeper into the China area to see the giant pandas.

This giant panda was reclining and snacking the whole time we walked around outside his cave.

Giant pandas are considered vulnerable, but not endangered. Pandas, both the red and giant varieties, have a “false thumb,” which is actually part of its wrist. This allows the panda to more easily grasp and shred bamboo stalks.

This hall is filled with Buddhas and other statues

As you walk through the space above, many of the Buddhas have a swastika on them. Needless to say, that can be a bit jarring if you’re used to having a certain association with the symbol. Thus, there are signs to explain this. I am going to quote their signs so I don’t accidentally communicate the wrong thing:

Swastika is a word from Sanskrit and means “what brings happiness.” This decorative or symbolic sign is one of the oldest in humanity. The symbol originated more than 10,000 years ago and spread throughout the world, through different cultures; especially in India and the Far East, where this sign is very often used in the iconography of local religions.
In India this sign stands for the rotation of the universe. In China and Tibet it evokes eternity. Buddha sometimes wears it on the chest or forehead.
In Japanese Zen Buddhism, the symbol stands for the “seal of the mind of Buddha.” It is therefore always a favorable sign.
Attention!
The swastika from Hinduism or Buddhism should certainly not be confused with the swastika of the Nazis.
There are in fact two variants of this sign in different eras and cultures.
The left-turning variant: the most used in the Far East.
The right-turning version: widely used in India. It is this latter variant, turned at an angle of 45 degrees, that was chosen as a sign of the Nazi regime. The symbol was consequently an unfavorable sign!

– Pairi Daiza

On our next visit to Pairi Daiza, we met our friends again. We were all very excited because a new section had just opened and it was the first weekend to see it. Laine’s been eagerly awaiting this particular opening for weeks! It is intended to feature some of her favorite animals, wolves. The section is for animals from North America! They’ve called it The Final Frontier. They have some “seaside” houses which I mentally picture in San Francisco. They also used signs from the U.S.’s National Park Service, which is delightful. We love the national parks!

I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to see this!

It was a fantastic area to walk around. They did a terrific job making it feel like the northwest areas of the U.S. and southern Canada. There are trees native to that area and the habitats feel, somehow, more like the American/Canadian border and Pacific Northwest. I was concerned that it would feel campy, but they really got it right.

This black bear looked like it was going to walk right up to us (there’s a ravine and a fence between us) before turning and ambling along the other side of the ravine.

In another space, brown and black bears share an enclosure. It’s a large area with running water and room to sprawl. I think they need more trees, but the area is new and trees take some time to grow. They also need the bears to leave them alone and you could see where a few of the “unwrapped” trees had already been used for claw-sharpening in the other section. Those trees aren’t going to survive.

Bear sighting!

We saw a Smokey the Bear sign, as well, which reminded me of 1980’s commercials. I’ll bet many of you remember them, too! It was kind of funny because one of our friends is an Italian who lives in France and I did a terrible job trying to sound like Smokey the Bear.

“Remember kids, only YOU can prevent forest fires!” I think those ads must have aired during Saturday morning cartoons.

We found some of the wolves! Laine was very excited to see them. There was a new wolf baby for one “family,” and they weren’t ready for visitors yet. The rest of the wolves were resting in the shade on a hot day.

There is a wolf in the shadow cast by these logs. The rest were way back in the back of the space, also in the shade. They share this enclosure with a few of the bears, and there was room in the space for them to spread out and enjoy a lazy morning.

There’s a brand new hotel that’s opened right here. We were actually standing on its roof as I took the photo above. The rooms have windows that look out onto the wolf/bear enclosure – right at ground level. That seemed like an incredibly neat idea before we learned that the rooms cost 1,000 Euros/night!

The sea lions were one of the most exciting exhibits on this trip. They were my favorite because they seemed to be playing for all of us to see. They would swim right up to the edge of the glass, turn, and swim away upside down before flipping over to gracefully swim back toward us. Over and over again – so peaceful! I would have missed this entirely if Isaac hadn’t shown me where we could walk under the deck to see the water. The hippo enclosure and the otter enclosure have this same feature and it’s wonderful!

My boy and 2 sea lions

This was the last sign we saw before exiting the North American area. It was really cool because we remember reading these same warnings in Big Bend National Park in Texas a couple of years ago!

This was a fun flashback for us – mostly because we didn’t have to USE this knowledge.

The kids were excited to see a real reindeer. This guy was hanging out in the shade to try to stay cool. The mother and young reindeer were around the corner having a drink of water.

Hiding from the sunshine

The reindeer were still working on losing their winter coats and this guy had grown some enormous antlers! Both males and females grow antlers, but the female in this area did not have any. Hers begin to grow later than his. These antlers are still covered in their velvety outer layer. As the year wears on, the antlers will shed this layer and harden. I am very curious about how much these things weigh!

At the end of a fun day, the girls were our tour guides and helped us map our way to the exit.

Follow the leaders!

Living in Leuven

Despite the fact that we spend an inordinate amount of time traveling, we genuinely love our little city. We live right in the heart of “downtown,” which is utterly comical if you’re to compare it to say, any city in the U.S. Our garage door is the very last spot on the street before it turns into a pedestrian zone. The next street up from us (1/2 block) is a retail center. It’s all pedestrians from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Other than those times, the only cars allowed on there are those going to shops to make deliveries, street sweepers, and garbage trucks.

Here’s the thing about garbage collection, though. There is a LOT of it. We have 5 different containers for trash in our house:

  1. the blue bag: plastic bottles, cans, and aluminum products (collected every 2 weeks)
  2. the pink bag: almost every other type of plastic (collected every 3 weeks)
  3. the green bag: all food scraps (collected every Friday)
  4. the cardboard/paper recycling bin (collected every 2 weeks, provided you have gathered it into a cardboard box and sealed that box)
  5. the brown bag: all other trash (collected every Tuesday)

Pop quiz! Did you realize I didn’t list a particular type of trash? Go ahead and read over the list again. I’ll wait.

Did you figure out I didn’t mention glass? That’s because we don’t actually have a container for glass. We rinse out the bottles and set them aside. Glass is not collected for us. We have to take it away ourselves. Glass recycling is more complex. If it’s a particular type of beer bottle, it can be turned in via machine at the grocery store. The machine tallies the total number of bottles and we get a receipt. We present the receipt to the cashier at checkout and they treat it as a coupon for 10 cents/bottle. The beer producers here expect to receive a certain number of bottles back each month, so they don’t order new bottles as often as they would otherwise. Wine bottles and all other glass, however, have to be taken somewhere else. There are various collection centers throughout the city and the closest to us is about a block from our grocery store, so we generally detour on the way to shop. There we separate the glass between clear and colored glass and drop it into the appropriate container. I don’t know what the schedule is for collecting glass, but you can hear it loud and clear when they do!

Alright, enough trash talk. Part of the fun of living here is the sheer number of celebrations. The Flemish people celebrate everything. It’s wonderful! A couple of weeks ago, there was a mid-week holiday for a Celebration of Flemish Community and it’s celebrated annually. Usually these celebrations involve rerouting the main bus route into downtown and blocking the streets with vendors and fun. I believe the buses run on a different street at least once every 2 weeks and more in the summertime. Last week, there was a sand volleyball tournament in the plaza closest to us, so they relocated half of the Friday market into the street and rerouted the buses to accommodate the vendors/shoppers. The volleyball tournament was set up for 3-4 days, which means that a lot of people took time off work to compete in it. They also had bounce houses and ice cream stands set up around the perimeter, so the kids and I stopped to check it out when we went to the market last week.

The volleyball tournament was part of Het Groot Verlof (The Great Leave) which takes place through July and August every summer. This festival means there’s a party every weekend. On Friday evenings, 2 stages are set up in 2 different, but nearby, plazas. There are 2 concerts. We live about 2 blocks from the second one, which fires up at 10:30 p.m. (as it finally gets dark) and goes for a couple of hours. Even with all the windows open, however, it’s still not very loud and you have to listen hard to hear the music from this distance. It’s perfect! The other amazing part is that by Saturday morning, the stages are down and the plazas are cleared of all debris. You’d never know there had been an event!

Play space in Grote Markt for Het Groot Verlof – can you find Laine?

In addition to the music and sand volleyball, there are fun days set up in the park. The kids and I went a couple of weeks ago as we waited for Todd to get back from Austin. There was a band (think big band) playing show tunes and 80’s American music, plus there were cold drinks and ice cream, and a bounce house for the kids. Everyone had a great time: Laine and I on the lawn while Isaac bounced.

My girl & me. Isaac was busy having the time of his life in the bounce house

There are a lot of random parades here. We usually find out about them because we accidentally stumble into the sidelines of one. They’re fascinating in their uniqueness. They are incredibly esoteric, so we don’t “get” some of them. But they’re lively and fun!

A bit of the parade: The unicyclists were so talented; they’d pretend to be out of control and then save themselves to be upright again. The orange car expands at all of the joints, raises itself on a scissor lift, and breaths smoke. The silver car was playing music as this man was the DJ. And the people on stilts were amazing, especially considering these streets are cobblestone.
The kids did get picked up by the police, but it was just a misunderstanding.

Elsewhere, we got to see street performers, balloon artists, and numerous bounce houses. And all of it took place within a few blocks of our apartment. We started at one end of the celebration and worked our way around in a semi-circle surrounding our apartment building.

Balloons and bounce houses and face paint! Oh my!

On days when there aren’t major celebrations in front of our door, we go to parks and explore. We have learned we can get fresh milk from a machine at one of the parks just outside the city’s inner ring. We’ve gotten quite spoiled from the delicious milk and now no one wants “store bought” milk. This will be a major adjustment when we return to Austin.

The kids are familiar enough with Leuven to navigate on their own. It’s been exciting to see how much they’ve grown living here.

Independent kids leading the way

Meandering in München

The last stop on our tour of Germany was Munich. We checked into our AirBnB upon arrival to ditch our bags. Of all the places we stayed, this one was decidedly our least favorite. But there were beds for everyone and it was close to the train station, so it was okay.

We started our Munich tour at the Marienplatz, of course. The clock has a Glockenspiel from 1908, which is really neat if you see it in action. The plaza is always packed with people and there are all sorts of things to see. It has been the city’s main square since 1158! Laine befriended a “statue” as we walked through the square.

She was delighted by this exchange – he was very kind when he chatted with her.

We moved on from the plaza for a bite to eat in the shadow of the Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady) with its twin onion-shaped domes. It is currently undergoing maintenance, so we were not able to climb the stairs to the top. They should offer quite a view at they are 323 feet high and the tallest places in the city center.

The glasses match the cathedral!

After our meal, we did take a brief look around the inside of the church. The interior of the church had high ceilings and lots of natural light. The organ was also pretty impressive to view from down below. The construction of this building began in 1468 and it was finished in only 20 years! That’s pretty impressive for a building of this size. The towers were almost completed in 1488 but had temporary roofing which began to leak. They were finally replaced with the onion domes in 1525. The original plans called for pointed spires, but these were a less expensive alternative. As you would expect, there was severe damage to the building during World War II. The final reconstruction from that finished in 1994.

High ceilings and beautiful arches

There is one other feature of note in the cathedral. Near the entrance to the building, there is a black foot-shaped mark in the floor. It is said to be the Devil’s footprint. If you step into the mark, you cannot see any of the side windows of the church. From 1622 until 1860, you also couldn’t see the window above the altar because there was a large wooden altar covering it. There are numerous legends on this, but the one inside the church says that the devil himself walked into the building before it was consecrated. Seeing that there were no windows, he stamped his foot in delight that the building would be ugly and useless. That is why the mark is there. He then took one step forward and saw all of the beautiful windows. In a furious rage, he created a great wind to try to blow the building down, but he did not succeed. The wind, however, continues to whip around the building even today. It is said that it will continue thus until the Devil himself comes to reclaim it.

That evening, we decided to go to the Augustiner BraüMünchen for dinner and drinks. Augustiner was established in 1328 and is Munich’s oldest independent brewery. More importantly for us, however, the playground was terrific! The kids got to climb all over the wooden structures and slides. They also made a few new friends with other American kids playing, as well. We introduced the kids to apfelschorle – apple juice mixed with mineral water. The Americans at the next table stopped by to ask about the kids’ “beers.”

Tasty, refreshing, and NOT BEER!!!

We had a great dinner, but the kids favorite part of the meal was definitely the ginormous pretzels. Isaac is eager to return to Munich next month for another one…

When your food is bigger than your head…

We stayed out a *tiny* bit too late that night. We decided that our second day in Munich needed to be a bit tame so we could recover from our whirlwind trip. Enter: the bus tours. We took 2 of them in one day and they were just the ticket. Our first stop was Nymphenburg Palace. It was the main summer residence of the former rulers of Bavaria (southern Germany) and the House of Wittelsbach. I recommend you look at the photos in the link to get a feel for the scale of the grounds.

The palace behind us – that golden lamp in the background is about 3x the size of my head. Everything here is done on a palatial scale.

We walked the grounds for a while and peered in through the windows, but we didn’t do a full tour. The grounds were beautiful and there were people everywhere at work. It made me curious about the number of employees they must have on staff.

View of the back of the palace – you can see a gondola on the water, a fountain about halfway back to the palace, and a few of the statues that line the walkway.

Once we finished our bus tours, we decided to head to one of the other most famous places in Munich: Hofbräuhaus. One of the things I find fascinating about German beers is their adherence to the Bavarian beer purity law. The law was enacted in Munich in 1487. It was then expanded to all of Bavaria in 1516 and still stands today. The original law allowed for only water, barley, and hops. The basic law now declares that only malted grains, hops, water and yeast are permitted.

The world’s most famous tavern

In addition to serving great beers, Hofbräuhaus also offers an interesting look at Munich’s history. It has served many famous people throughout the years, including Mozart (who supposedly wrote an opera after his visit) and Vladimir Lenin (just before World War I he lived in Munich). It was also the first meeting place of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialists in February 1920. You can actually still see the swastikas on the ceiling if you look closely at the Bavarian flags.

Ceiling art

Some members of our group were definitely not ready for a history lesson. She got in a nice nap before fortifying herself with an apfelschorle and a large pretzel.

A safe place to land between mom and dad.

The next day, we said goodbye to Todd’s parents at the airport. It was so wonderful to get to share this trip with them! We flew back to Brussels as they flew home to Maryland.

Until next time, Munich!

Enjoying Erlangen

After a filling breakfast in Cologne, we were back on the train and headed to Erlangen. We stopped for a bite to eat in Nuremberg, where the kids were literally climbing the walls. All in all, they were amazing travelers, so it was good to let them burn off some steam.

“Have fun storming the castle!”

The architecture in Nuremberg is fantastic, particularly near the train station. There were a few of these narrow, pedestrian streets and they were charming.

Quaint streets in Nuremberg

From Nuremberg, we were off aboard a train to Erlangen, which was our planned stop for the night. The ride to Erlangen was much livelier than any of our previous trips. We were joined by a boisterous crowd clad in lederhosen and dirndls who were headed to Erlangen’s beer festival.

After arriving in Erlangen, we hired two cabs to transport us and all of our gear to an AirBnB. The kids and I were in a Mercedes cab, which allowed them to pop the seats up for the kids to make built-in booster seats. Very cool!

The apartment was bright and spacious and even had chocolates waiting for us. (Chocolate is definitely a great way to make a first impression). We had room to spread out and rest for a bit before walking to the local beer festival. The walk through Erlangen was peaceful, especially since we had no idea where we were going. We walked down a couple of major roads before walking through a park and along a small path between open fields on one side and woods on the other. The fields ended about a block from the entrance to the festival, which made for a beautiful setting.

The beer festival was exactly what I hoped a German beer festival would be. There were displays of enormous heart-shaped cookies for sale, carnival rides for the kids and adults, and very large steins of beer.

The hearts at the top are all cookies! “Ich liebe dich” means “I love you.”

The beer set-up was also clever. When you buy a stein of beer, they charge you a 5€ deposit. That way, if you walk away with a souvenir beer mug, they can buy a replacement. We took home a couple of souvenir mugs, so we liked that system a lot.

4 of the 6 Walters had a couple of drinks and all of us had a great dinner.

There weren’t many people at the fair. It began to rain lightly as we arrived at the festival. It caused the crowds to thin as evening rolled in. We were grateful to find seats under a tent before the rain got thicker! It rained on and off throughout the evening, but there were enough places for us to shelter that we didn’t mind it. The kids had a chance to ride on several of the carnival rides, which kept them from being bored as the grown-ups hung out and chatted.

There was a live band playing in one of the other tent/open areas. They were great! They played several songs we’d never heard, but they also played covers of a few songs we recognized, so we could sing along. Most of the crowds were singing and dancing near them, which added to the party atmosphere.

Our final stop at the beer festival was the crepe stand. Isaac & Laine enjoyed Nutella crepes. I had Nutella and some Grand Marnier in mine. Yum!

Nutella and Grand Marnier: a winning combination

We walked back to our apartment for a good night’s rest before riding the train to our final stop in Germany: Munich.

Kolossal Köln

Stepping from the train station in Cologne (Köln) is a breathtaking experience. We walked out just below the largest cathedral I’ve ever seen. It was so large I took a video. I couldn’t take a photo that would capture the entire building. It’s genuinely awe-inspiring.

We checked in to our hotel and then grabbed a quick snack at a Bavarian style restaurant. We were *thrilled* to learn our hotel had air conditioning in the rooms! I definitely miss that luxury.

Pretzels and beer – pretending we were in Bavaria

Once we’d filled our bellies a bit, it was time to explore the cathedral. Previously, a 4th century, and later a 6th century, church stood here. The foundation for this building was laid in 1248, but then it took 600 years to complete the rest of it. The existing building was damaged in World War II, but did not collapse. It has been under constant maintenance since the 1950s. Given the many intricate details in the facade, it’s not hard to understand why. The towers at the front are 515 feet tall – the tallest in Germany. They’re tall enough that the scaffolding attached to them doesn’t even come all the way down to the ground.

A side view of the cathedral – the darker areas have been damaged by the sulfuric acid in rain

The cathedral is supposed to attract about 20,000 visitors every day. That’s 6 million people per year! There were hundreds there at the same time we were. Only a few joined the service taking place, though. Listening to the singing during the service was delightful. The Gothic arches lead to incredible acoustics! And the stained glass windows make everything inside glow with beautiful colors.

Very tall, very lovely windows

All around the exterior of the cathedral, there were street artists creating amazing pictures with chalk. This one was my favorite because of a book club party the kids and I attended earlier this year in Austin.

A lovely copy of Girl With A Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

As we left, the kids walked down a reconstructed Roman road toward the river, the park, and dinner. The stones are original, but the road itself has been remade.

Roman road stones!

We walked down to the Rhine River to watch some of the boats cruising. From there, we walked toward our hotel and found some outdoor seating for a nice dinner. We retired to our rooms (and air conditioning!) for the night. The next day, we were up for a quick breakfast and then off to Nuremberg and Erlangen.

Amazing Aachen

On our 10th anniversary, Todd and I wrote a “living” list on our dry erase board. The list comprises things we wanted to do within the next 10 years of marriage. We’ve made some progress on it, but there are sill lots of things left. One of our checklist items was to visit Germany with Todd’s parents. Well, friends, we checked that item off our list in grand style.

We started our tour of Germany in Aachen. This city was home to Charlemagne and his stamp is literally all over it. There are little brass plaques with his symbol on the streets and sidewalks as well as many of the buildings.

We rode the train from Leuven to Aachen on a Sunday. Upon leaving the Hoptbaunhof (train station) in Aachen, the kids were excited to greet the horses out front.

This horse, in particular, was happy to greet them back.

We walked through town to the historic area and settled down for lunch outside. The weather was perfect and it was fun to share Dave & Judy’s first German beer with them.

Little Miss was too excited about taking the photo to notice her finger was in it. 🙂

Aachen has one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever entered. Charlemagne commissioned the cathedral and construction of the original church completed around the year 800. Charlemagne was buried there after his death in 814. The church building has grown significantly since then. It was the church of coronation for 31 German kings and 12 queens!

The Barbarossa Chandelier holds 48 candles.

Aachen was an “Episcopal seat” from 1802-1825. The church is now Catholic, however. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is an important church for pilgrimages. The church houses several significant relics: “the apparel of the Virgin Mary, the so-called swaddling clothes and the loincloth of Christ, and the decapitation cloth of John the Baptist.” (notes from the leaflet at the church)

The impressive ceiling above the chandelier

All of the architecture in the church is impressive. The architectural style covers 3 different distinct eras with some interesting juxtapositions. There is gold on most ceilings. There are mosaics, marble paneling, and marble floors throughout. The stained glass windows were all replaced in 1951 after the previous windows were destroyed during World War II.

The stained glass windows here are behind the altar.

Despite all of the pomp and circumstance, I felt very peaceful inside the church. I honestly think the scent of church incense has that impact on me. Funny, considering how many people think it stinks!

View of the cathedral from the town hall

After our tour of the church, we walked across the square to the town hall. This was also a key location thanks to Charlemagne. Fun fact, this building is called the Rathaus (rat house). The existing building stands on top of the remains of the buildings before it. Construction of this building began in 1330, but it has undergone many changes due to damage from civil unrest and later World War II.

Aachen’s town hall building

The Rathaus tour offers a great deal of information about the destruction of Germany during World War II. It’s fascinating to see it from the German side. There is one room where you can listen via telephone to various speakers. Each person talks from a different perspective about events during the war or the restoration afterwards.

As we wrapped up our walking tour, we said goodbye to the horses and caught the train to Cologne.

Bye, “Sunshine!”

Learning More About Leuven

From London, we rode the trains to Leuven. It was tremendous fun to introduce the grandparents to our temporary home.

Train-traveling troupers…

Laine took her grandparents on a bit of a tour of Leuven on Friday. Isaac was incredibly sick that day, so he and I stayed home while they explored. One bonus from their trip was their discovery of Leuven’s Friday market. It is a HUGE open market open on Friday mornings and the kids and I have gone every Friday since we learned about it. It’s pretty easy when it’s only a block from our apartment!

Saturday we walked through Sint-Pieteskerk. Construction of the church in its current form began around 1425. As in most of Europe, the church was severely damaged during World Wars I and II. It took decades to rebuild the church to the current building. Inside the church, the area behind the altar is still under construction. It should open in September, so we will visit again then. I would like to attend a service there sometime, but it will be in Flemish, so I won’t be able to understand much of it.

The scale of this church, particularly when I realize I live only a block away, is astonishing to me. We saw larger cathedrals in Germany, but this was still amazing. The Baroque pulpit there includes a life-sized portrayal of Norbert of Xanten falling from a horse. I should have had one of us stand next to it so you’d have a better feel for the scale of it.

I cannot imagine hearing a sermon from this pulpit. How intimidating!!!
The pillars in this church are huge!

Naturally, we introduced Dave and Judy to some of our favorite Belgian beers. We also visited the waffle/ice cream shop at least twice during their 3 days in Belgium. They were a hit!

Waffles from Pinocchio are the very best!