Thursday, April 2, 2009

The beginning of my parents trip to Belgium: Castles & beautiful Bruges (Feb 24 & 25)

I can't believe it! My parents finally made the big trip across the pond! I always knew my mom would come, but I figured it would take some coaxing to get my dad over here. Luckily, Belgium is known as 'Beer Country' which helped a little bit! They arrived in the morning of February 24 at the Brussels Airport where Shannon and I were waiting for them. I think my dad was one of the few with a baseball cap, so they weren't too difficult to spot.

After stopping for a pastry on the way home from the airport and unpacking their bags at our apartment, we were off to see some castles. Unfortunately, Shannon couldn't join us due to his demanding work schedule. Thankfully, I've learned to drive in this crazy city and feel quite comfortable taking Shannon's car out which sometimes he isn't so happy about! Anyway, back to my parents, my plan was to keep them awake for as long as I could even though they didn't sleep much on the plane; it's the only way to overcome jet lag. We stopped off at 3 beautiful castles which are located close to Brussels: Beersel Castle, Gaasbeek Castle and Chateau De La Hulpe (you can read more about them below). We also swung by Chateau du Lac which had been transformed into a hotel and overlooks a lake.

The next day we headed for Bruges since almost everyone who visits us has heard about it and wants to see this picturesque medieval city. Thankfully, I'm not sick of it yet, but I'm sure by the end of our 3 years, I'll be a bit tired of seeing it! Maybe I'll just tell our guests that we're in Bruges when we're really in Ghent or another city with canals! We walked around the town and I showed them the main sights such as Grote Markt (Market Square) with its magnificent Belfry and Government Palace along with other beautiful architecture surrounding the square. We also visited Burg Square, Cathedral of Our Lady, Fish Market (it was over with when we went by), medieval St John's Hospital, Dumon's Chocolatier and just enjoyed walking along the canals. My mom visited a few lace boutiques since Belgium is known for its lace, in particular Bruges, but didn't buy any until the end of their trip. Of course we walked around with a waffle in hand to fully immerse ourselves in the culture and later stopped at a cute brasserie in Grote Markt for lunch and a Belgium beer.

Beersel Castle - 14th century castle with a draw bridge and moat. Though the moat was dried up and they were doing construction on some of the castle. It opens in the Spring/Summer for visitors. It was the first castle my parents and I saw upon their arrival that morning.
My parents in front of Beersel Castle which is located very close to Brussels
Gaasbeek Castle - originally from the 13th century, but has been renovated in the 16th & 19th centuries. Once again really close to Brussels.
Gaasbeek Castle - my dad trying to get in, but it's not open until the Spring and Summer, but still very cool to walk around since there's a huge park and a few ponds surrounding it.
Gaasbeek Castle - my dad mesmerized by the castle...can't see these everyday on the farm!
Chateau De La Hulpe - castle/mansion built in 1842 by the wealthy Solvay family. It's located in the Soignes Forest, close to Brussels. Actually the forest close to our apartment eventually leads down to this Chateau so maybe someday I'll bike through the forest down there.
Chateau De La Hulpe - Mom in the garden area on the side of the castle (check out the nicely shaped arched hedges!) Also I'm sure the flowers are beautiful in this garden in the Spring and Summer.
Chateau De La Hulpe - One of the sides of the castle (it's me, not my mom...I had to steal her scarf because I forgot to wear mine and you just don't look right in Europe without one!)
Picturesque Bruges, Belgium - it's located in the northwest of the country just over an hour away from Brussels. Bruges was founded in the 9th century and by the 12th century was recognized as one of the most important towns in northern Europe.
My parents toured Bruges, Belgium the second day they were in Belgium. This photo was taken in the Grote Markt (main Market Square)
The medieval Belfry Tower (Belfort) in the Grote Markt dating from around the 13th-15th centuries. It is 88 meters in height and houses the former city treasury, in which Bruges' valuables (money and royal charters) were once kept. If you're willing to climb its 366 steps, you'll go by its impressive clock mechanism and eventually take in a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and its surroundings. We chose not to do this, though, maybe another time.
Mom and I in front of the magnificent Government Palace located in the Grote Markt.
Gothic Town Hall in Burg Square
Small canal and bridge in a cute setting behind the Church of Our Lady
Church of Our Lady - it's a beautiful church both inside and out, but they were doing construction around it when we were visiting (notice the crazy grooming that Belgium does to its trees so they basically link together in a nice uniform path without getting out of hand; it actually doesn't look too bad once they put on some leaves, but at first I was quite scared of these odd looking trees!)
You can't go to Belgium without eating chocolate and Dumon's is a great Chocolatier in Bruges which we stop at every time we're there!

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