17 July 2009, Friday

Hi Little Ladybug,

Today was our last day in the cottage, so we started our morning giving it a thorough cleaning. Melanie originally planned to have your daddy keep you busy in the morning so that the girls could get some real work done, but was pleasantly surprised to find you willing and able to help, and eventually put you to work cleaning couches and mopping the hardwood floors.

Once we were finished, we packed up the van and began our journey back north to the Flemish side of Belgium. However, our first stop was only a couple of blocks away from the cottage, at the Chauffre brewery to pick up a couple of souvenirs. We also told Marcel that we wanted to briefly stop in the nearby town of Houffalize, which we did: Marcel drove us the town, momentarily idled the car near the city centre, and then drove away. Apparently subtle hints are the first things to get lost in translation.

While we were still on the French side of the country, we stopped at the Castle of Alden Bissen, a beautifully restored tutonic castle in the heart of Belgium’s cherry country. The castle features several gardens with immaculately trimmed hedges, two vast courtyards, a moat, and an otherworldly main square: to protect it from the elements, it is protected by four, massive butterly-wing-like parasols which act like a delicate sunroof, casting a golden glow on the court below it. You spent most of your time there walking (and, occasionally, rolling around on the grass) with the dog, doing your best to bond with her.

We again headed north, next stopping on the Flemish side at Silvermeer, a ginormous park in the city of Mol. Silvermere is sort of like every possible recreation area you’ve ever seen – Technicolor plastic kiddie park; metal grade-school playground; military-grade obstacle course; water-park; paddle-boat lake; etc – and put them into a single wooded area, and you’d have the right idea. We first entered the park near its white-sand beach, and we literally had to hold you down to prevent you from stripping down to your panties and diving into the synthetic surf. Instead, we hastily crammed some chicken nuggets into you (and frituurs, sausages, and beer into the rest of us) before letting you run wild from one play area to another. You ecstatically climbed castles and slides, rode a tricycle through a pretend gas station, played on a lay-down swing, and scurried your way through tunnels.

One very cool area was a giant geodesic dome with a number of rope ladders and tubes leading to a tall tube slide, which you climbed through with the help of Daddy. There was also the tallest tube slide I have ever seen, probably five stories tall from base to tip. We watched a boy climb to the top and ride it, and he literally fired out of the bottom of the slide like a bullet, sliding for a good six feet across the sand on his back before finally coming to a halt. After significant negotiation, I eventually let daddy take you to the top to slide down it, but fortunately for everyone (but daddy, I suppose) the kid who went down the slide before you did so on a damp towel, which can effect the decelerating of your descent enough so that (a) you had a pleasant trip down the slide and (b) your daddy actually got stuck midway up and had to “sckootch” his way down.

At six o’clock we called it quits, but not before deciding that we would return to Silvermeer next week to play all day (and next time we’re bring bathing suits, too!). We drove the rest of the way back to Wuustwezel, where we had another delicious dinner (complements of Melanie) before we headed to bed, tired from a long day of driving and playing.

Here are some more pictures from today’s fun:

The beautiful landscaping at the castle, You dreaming at the castle gates, Some castle pictures, You and the dog resting at the castle, The courtyard with the butter-fly-like parasols for protection, Our princess in the castle, Playing at Silvermeer You and daddy walking up to the huge slide… I can just barely see you next to the small tree/bush in front of the slide, Marcel resting at the end of the day. Love you, Ladybug.