Our village – Tervuren, Belgium

TERVUREN, BELGIUM: Sorry but Tervuren is not a world-famous city in Europe or even Belgium, like Brugge or Gent. This is just a small village where we spent 3 years of our time as ex-pats. This is where my elder daughter has been going to school for the past 3 years and my little one started her education-career 6 months ago. After countless long trips and journeys, our home in Tervuren gave us the cozy feeling for the past 3 years. We have become very fond of this little place, especially our Village of Vossem within Tervuren.

A musical band round-about, a symbol of our beautiful Tervuren in Belgium

A musical band round-about, a symbol of our beautiful Tervuren in Belgium

Tervuren is a little Flemish town about less than 30 km away from Brussels. The village is pretty well-known among the foreigners for housing many ex-pats families from different countries, especially from the USA and Great Britain. There are two British schools here where hundreds of ex-pats kids come and leave every year.

Main square or the city center of Tervuren, a small Flemish town in Belgium

Main square or the city center of Tervuren, a small Flemish town in Belgium

EATING and SHOPPING: Tervuren City Center is probably where most of the restaurants and good stores are in this village. It’s a shame but we’ve only eaten there once in a pizzeria. But the Friday morning market is a place where I went few times and loved every moment of it. I did my weekly groceries, like fresh produce, cheese, olives, fish, eggs,…and chocolates from here. It’s a beautiful environment and I got to meet locals as well as other ex-pats.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We visited almost whole Europe but didn’t even get the chance to properly visit our own village…this is what happens when you procrastinate. But we all will miss this little town very much once we leave Belgium in just a couple of weeks. Hope our daughters will one day come back here again and can remember our old house, their old school, and the neighborhood.

1) CITY CENTER: Tervuren City Center is small but a perfect place to hang around for shopping or meal. I have never been inside Tervuren Church, but it looks pretty old and a historic building here. The new modern City Hall building is located across the church.

City center of Tervuren in Belgium

City center of Tervuren in Belgium

2) ROYAL MUSEUM of CENTRAL AFRICA: This is one of the main highlights of Tervuren. Since Congo was by colonized by Belgium at one point and there was a dominance of Europe over whole of Africa, this museum carries stories of Africa, especially highlighting on Congo. Different sections and displays share the brief period of the history of that colonization of Congo by Belgium. Many paintings, statues/sculptures, photos, artifacts, and life-size animals (not alive) are there to enjoy for both children and adults. There is also a small section for children to do some hands-on-experiments.

The building of this museum itself is very grand and royal-looking. Tervuren Park is located right opposite of the museum on the other side. There was a temporary exhibitions going on when we were there in the Royal Museum. It was called “Spiders Alive” where a whole room full of different species of spiders were brought in glass boxes. The kids had a blast in that room and learned a lot too.

Royal African Museum in Tervuren, Belgium

Royal African Museum in Tervuren, Belgium

The museum has been closed for renovation since last year, summer of 2013 and as planned, it will open to the visitors in 2016. When we were there last year, the ticket was 3 euros per adults and kids under 6 were free. Not sure how this is going to change once the renovation is done and the museum has more rooms and displays in the coming years. At that time there was nothing written in English, all in Dutch and French. It took little more than hour to look around the museum. There is a train station across the museum and also a nice big parking lot for cars.

3) TERVUREN PARK: We have been to Tervuren Park only a few times, but the best one has to be when my elder daughter and I went there on an early morning of fall (in 2012). I don’t think I have ever seen such beauty of fall colors before. We were there a little before sunrise. All the park benches, fallen leaves, and sculptures were wet with morning dew. Different shades of orange and yellow colors of the leaves started shinning and sparkling with the first ray of dawn. It was a fantastic experience for both my daughter and I.

Tervuren Park, Belgium

Tervuren Park, Belgium

 

Sonian Forest is a big forest area (if not the biggest) in Belgium. Tervuren Park has a small portion of that forest surrounding it from every direction. It’s a nice getaway to the forest and majestic oaks, elegant French gardens, ponds, and flower beds. There are some historic buildings in or around this park – one is Spanish House and the other one is Royal Palace. I have been to none of them actually, just saw the Royal Palace from distance which hosts concerts and big events in this area.

Autumn in full swing in Tervuren Park, Belgium

Autumn in full swing in Tervuren Park, Belgium

Tervuren Park is a great area for the hikers, bikers, joggers, or for those who love to bring a blanket and basket of food with loved ones and enjoy it beside the lake. I even saw many people sitting by the lake with fishing poles.

A magical morning in Tervuren, Belgium

A magical morning in Tervuren, Belgium

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Godfrey’s Bouillon in Belgium

BOUILLON, BELGIUM: Bouillon is the city of Godfrey, a legendary knight of the first crusade from 11th century (remember him from the movie “Kingdom of Heaven”?). This is the “Jewel of the Semois Valley” and a paradise for gourmets, nature lovers, and history enthusiasts.

Semois River and valley in Bouillon, Belgium

Semois River and valley in Bouillon, Belgium

TIME of TRAVEL: As we are preparing ourselves to leave Belgium in just a few weeks, we are making good use of every weekend and holiday. Last week, on the 3rd Saturday of June 2014, we took a day-trip to Bouillon. It’s about 1 ½ hours of drive from Tervuren, Belgium, may be same time if you are driving from Brussels too.

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch at Pizza Hut in a service-inn on our way to Bouillon. We had some home-made gourmet ice-cream after we visited the castle and came down to the valley. And for dinner we sat down in a small restaurant on a small alley parallel to River Semois. Since we are big fans of FIFA World Cup, the restaurant “La Grignotte” were showing Argentina vs Iran match, so we decided to take a table there. It looked like the place is very well-known for their burgers and different kinds of sauces to eat with your burgers and fries. But they also had salad, pasta, sandwich, waffle, crepe, and omelets. But if you want to have your meal by the river-side, Bouillon has plenty of options for that too. There were countless big and small eateries by the river and they were all overcrowded with relaxers and chillers. Pick a place from there and enjoy a lazy meal or a drink by the water.

Some restaurants by River Semois in Bouillon, Belgium

Some restaurants by River Semois in Bouillon, Belgium

As for souvenirs or shopping, we didn’t see many shops along the riverside. May be the shopping streets were hiding in the more inner part of the city. However, we did see a tobacco shop where they were selling post-cards, shot-glasses, and other small things.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We reached Bouillon right after lunch, around 2pm. Since these summer days are longer, we were able to spend a good few hours here.

1) CHATEAU de GODEFRIOD de BOUILLON: This is the main attraction of Bouillon. Godfrey of Bouillon was one of the heroic knights of the very first crusade from the 11th century and His castle (from the 11th century too) in Bouillon is a major asset and a historic landmark in whole Belgium. The castle is also probably one of the best places to get some thrilling views of Semois Valley, the river, and town below.

A fantastic view from Chateau de Godfrey de Bouillon in Belgium

A fantastic view from Chateau de Godfrey de Bouillon in Belgium

We went thru two old tunnels “Pont a Bascule” and “Pont Levis” to come to the main front yard of the château where “Falcone Show” takes place few times a day. This was very exciting for our girls. The show was for half an hour and displayed all sorts of birds of prey. Two hosts were speaking mainly in French and Dutch, so we couldn’t really get the jokes, but really enjoyed the birds’ performance.  Godfrey’s Chateau has a huge complex of medieval defense with old walls and stone buildings. All the accessible spots are marked with numbers. There are many underground tunnels that you can explore here with countless stairs going up or down.

 

Inside an underground tunnel in Godfrey's Castle in Bouillon, Belgium

Inside an underground tunnel in Godfrey’s Castle in Bouillon, Belgium

Visiting this castle was the most enriching travel through time of crusades in Bouillon. This is one of the oldest and most interesting feudal castles from that era. Visitors follow the footsteps of the crusaders in this castle…a bewitching place of walks and discoveries. There were some small exhibitions all around the castle. You can even see a medieval torture chamber and an underground prison.

 

Godfrey's Castle and its surroundings in Bouillon, Belgium

Godfrey’s Castle and its surroundings in Bouillon, Belgium

Most of the information inside the castle complex is written either in French or Dutch, so I would highly recommend getting an audio-tour. We brought our car to the small hill the castle is on and drove back to the city center after we were done with the castle. There are many parking spots both near the castle and down in the valley. Ticket is 6.50 euros per adult and 4.50 euros for kids. Audio tour is available at extra fee.

 

Falcon Show in Chateau de Godfrey in Bouillon, Belgium

Falcon Show in Chateau de Godfrey in Bouillon, Belgium

2) WALK by RIVER SEMOIS: After we came down to the valley and near the river, we parked the car, and began walking by River Semois. We started from one side, crossed a small bridge, and reached another longer bridge on the other side. We had river on left side and lots and lots of restaurants on our right side. It was simply relaxing looking at the small paddling boats on the river, expressive buildings, and people the cafes having good time.

 

Walking by River Semois in Bouillon, Belgium

Walking by River Semois in Bouillon, Belgium

3) PADDLE BOAT on RIVER SEMOIS: Looking at other people paddling on River Semois, my elder daughter wanted to give it a go. We rode on camels in Giza, rode on donkeys in Petra, did plenty of horse-wagon rides, boat tours, cruising, and stuff…but never tried a paddle boat. So why not? It was a lazy late afternoon and we really had nothing else planned out to see or do. We crossed the small bridge to the other side of the river and rented a small shaded boat to explore pleasant River Semois.

 

Walking towards to rent a paddle boat, can see Godfrey's Castle on the hill...in Bouillon, Belgium

Walking towards to rent a paddle boat, can see Godfrey’s Castle on the hill…in Bouillon, Belgium

Boat is 3 euros per person for 30 minutes ride and 5 euros for an hour ride. It closes at 7pm in summer. We took a 30 minutes ride and it was enough to go around the river on one side by the old buildings, restaurants, and hotels.

4) UNKNOWN CHURCH: One of the famous churches of Bouillon is Basilique de St. Hubert. We didn’t visit that one, but we found another one that’s steeple was raising high, dominating the old town of Bouillon, very close to River Semois. We couldn’t find the name of this church; tried searching its name in the web…but no luck. But it was a beautiful church outside and inside. There was a service going on when we arrive, so really couldn’t walk around to its dazzling altar that I saw from the entrance.

The unknown church in Bouillon, Belgium

The unknown church in Bouillon, Belgium

Tournai, Belgium

TOURNAI, BELGIUM: Interestingly, Tournai (or “Doornik” in Dutch) is a French-speaking Flemish town of Belgium. Meaning it is in Wallon region (French part) with lots of Flanders (Dutch) influences. This is in the Province of Hainaut which is very scenic and traditionally, rich in culture and heritage. Situated by River Scheldt, this is considered as one of the oldest cities in Belgium. It was badly damaged during WWII. Since then the city authority has been restoring the city to its old glory. If you are in Brussels and want to visit a less touristy city of Belgium, Tournai makes a perfect day-trip from the capital of Europe.

Flemish style buildings in the old town of Tournai, Belgium
Flemish style buildings in the old town of Tournai, Belgium
           

This was the religious capital of Flanders many centuries ago. Tournai marble/limestone is well-known in this region and was once used for sculpted items, especially in churches.

TIME of TRAVEL: We visited Tournai in March of 2013. It was a cold Saturday in Belgium. Everything was empty in Grand Place and other parts of Tournai.

An empty square in Tournai, Belgium
An empty square in Tournai, Belgium
          

EATING and SHOPPING: Old town, especially Grand Place had some restaurants, cafés, and quick food places. I can’t even remember where we had lunch or if we had lunch in Tournai at all.

Historically, tapestries and draperies of Tournai are very famous and belong to the great Flemish school of tapestry. Being a Belgian city, you will find many chocolates and waffle stores by default. Grand Place had plenty of other stores for shopping too.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We literally spent only couple hours in Tournai. There are lots of things to do here. Since the weather wasn’t very pleasant, we kind of hurried and took a crush tour thru the city. Although we didn’t visit them, two of the oldest private houses in Europe (from the 12th century) are located in Tournai. If you can manage, visit the old city gates, museums, and Pont-des-Trous…a 13th century bridge on River Scheldt.

1) GRAND PLACE and CLOTH HALL: Grand Place is main square or heart of Tournai, like any other Belgian cities. It has several old buildings from the 15th and 16th century. There was a big fountain in the middle which was closed due to chilly weather outside (?).

Grand Place of Tournai, Belgium
Grand Place of Tournai, Belgium
             

2) SAINT QUETIN CHURCH: This is an old and beautiful church in Grand Place. The building caught our eyes and entrance was free to go inside, so wanted to check it out. It is a nice big church, and you can tell it has been standing there for a few centuries.

3) THE CATHEDRAL of NOTRE DAME de TOURNAI: This Romanesque and Gothic style cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tournai. The original cathedral on this spot was built somewhere around the 5th century. The current look of the cathedral is from the 12th century. The nave is in the Romanesque style and inspired by Norman churches. Later, the vaulting of the transept and the construction of the chancel were inspired by the Gothic period, with very high walls. The Gothic choir of this cathedral is a Flemish art element, very typical of this region.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Tournai
The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Tournai
              

4) BELFRY of TOURNAI: This is the oldest belfry in Belgium and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The construction of Tournai Bell Tower started from 1188. The spire is crowned by a dragon and the turrets are topped by statues of soldiers defending the city. The tower is 70 meters high and there are 257 steps leading to the top. It was closed and we couldn’t go up to the top.

Tournai Belfry (Bell Tower) from the 12th century
Tournai Belfry (Bell Tower) from the 12th century
           

5) LE CHATEAU de BELOEIL:  After we were done with Tournai and heading home, we took saw a sign on the road side for this castle or château. Feeling curious, both my husband and I were curious to see this castle. After lots of twisting and turnings, we finally reached Le Chateau de Boleil. If I am not mistaking this small town in Wallonia is called Beloeil. The château sits on a majestic pond surrounded by beautiful landscape. The castle belonged to the princes “de Ligne” dynasty is one of thirty generations of lords, vice-rois, ambassadors, senators, warlords, writers, aviators, settled in Beloeil since 1394.

Le Chateau de Beloeil in Belgium
Le Chateau de Beloeil in Belgium
              

We didn’t go inside the castle and not sure if it can be visited at all. But it holds some fine paintings, furniture, and dishes dating essentially from the 14th century. Library of this castle is famous of housing some 20,000 old leather books.

6) CHATEAU d’ATTRE: This was another château or castle we passed by while heading back home from Chateau de Beloeil. This was more like a big mansion in a beautiful setting. From the outside information board, it looked like that the castle and its park are open to visitors.

Chateau d'Attre in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium
Chateau d’Attre in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium
            

Magical Efteling in The Netherlands

EFTELING, THE NETHERLANDS: Efteling is one of the oldest theme parks in the world and one of the biggest in Europe which is located in Kaatsheuvel in The Netherlands. The whole park is themed around legends, fairy-tales, magical stories, and folklores. We took our girls there in September of 2013 for some summer fun before their school started and spent a whole day there. You can find rides for different ages, scenes from many folklore stories like Hansel and Gretel, The Red Dancing Shoes, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Gnome houses, and many more. I have been to many theme parks in the USA but this one is really makes you feel like you are in a fairy-tale story book. The park dresses up differently in different seasons, winter is probably one of the best time to see its fabulous lighting and decorations. The day we went there was also a water, fire, lighting, and music show on its lake near the entrance right before the closing time…which was fabulous.

It was about little more than hour drive from Tervuren, Belgium. The ticket 40 euros per person plus the parking. But parking is not a problem here. There are couple hotels inside the park and of course many cafes, restaurants, and snack bars.

Enjoy these picture from our trip to Efteling. But if you have time and kids be sure to visit this place in The Netherlands and be mesmerize as soon as you enter Efteling’s world.

The grand entrance to Efteling
The grand entrance to Efteling
         
"De Bazar" section of Efteling
“De Bazar” section of Efteling
         
A gnome's house in Efteling
A gnome’s house in Efteling
         
"The Long Neck"
“The Long Neck
         
A talking tree in Efteling
A talking tree in Efteling
         
Fire and water show near the entrance at the end of the day in Efteling
Fire and water show near the entrance at the end of the day in Efteling
            

Nature walk in La Hulpe, Belgium

LA HULPE, BELGIUM: Belgium continues to surprise us with its history and natural beauties. La Hulpe is one of those places where both nature and history come together in one splendid landscape.

La Hulpe Castle in Belgium
La Hulpe Castle in Belgium
              

Since fall is almost here in Belgium, I wanted to get out of the house with my camera to shoot some fall colors in any nearby site. La Hulpe, a Walloon town (French territory of Belgium), is only 10 miles from Tervuren. Park and trails of La Hulpe is part of Soignes Forest which is the biggest preserved forest in Belgium.

Fall colors in Soignes Forest in Belgium
Fall colors in Soignes Forest in Belgium
              

I reached there around 5:30 pm, by then, the sunny harsh light was gone. Many children, especially scout teams, were there to do some nature walks and exploration activities. The park is huge, I mean it’s very big and will need few trips to cover at least the main natural sites. I didn’t really go into deep trails or forest on my first trip, just followed a paved path that led me to the Castle of La Hulpe.

Close-up La Hulpe Castle in Wallonia of Belgium
Close-up La Hulpe Castle in Wallonia of Belgium
               

I am not sure if you can actually go inside the castle. But my daughter was saying they went inside during their trip here with school French instructor two years ago. But anyways, it was closed by the time I went there. There is a small but beautiful garden in one side of the castle and front of it is a big meadow. A lake awaits after you cross the neat green field of grass. It was just beautiful. I promised myself that I would come back here once again during the peak of fall and get some nice photos of patches of colors from the trees surrounding the lake.

A small lake in front of the castle in Soignes Forest, Belgium
A small lake in front of the castle in Soignes Forest, Belgium
           

La Hulpe Park is a perfect place for joggers, runners, photographers, explorers, and people who just love nature. There was a little history board giving some info on the castle as well as Soignes Forest, but everything was in French…so really couldn’t figure out anything. But overall it was worth spending 2 ½ hours here with my camera last Saturday…gotta come back again though.

A perfect place to mingle with the nature in La Hulpe, Belgium
A perfect place to mingle with the nature in La Hulpe, Belgium
       

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