While we were in Europe with our kids I really wanted to give them a taste of Europe beyond the Netherlands alone. It was really cool we managed to fit in a visit to an old castle in Belgium to give them a small taste of the dept of history Europe has to offer and also to show them the history, charm and size Paris.
The castle of Bouillion in the south of Belgium was a surprise gem (thank you to Garmt for the tip). It's a beautiful old castle that sits on top of a couple of hills of solid rock connected with two bridges and protected with a number of towers, draw bridges and a natural moat in a form of a river that winds itself around the town. A really well laid out walk takes you through the many corridors, halls and towers and to top it off we were treated to a bird of prey show presented by two Belgium comedians dressed in traditional medieval costumes. A real delight. Deborah took a night photo of the town with the castle above it.
We arrived in Paris around dinner time the second day of our Belgium/France outing and realised to our surprise (doh!) that this was the 14th of July, French Bastille Day. So despite the fact we were pretty knackered from the drive, we set of on the metro to the Eiffel Tower for the fireworks display at 11pm. And what a welcome to Paris this was; together with several hundred thousand Parisiennes and tourists from all over the world we witnessed 40 minutes of the largest fireworks I have ever seen. Paris was a-buzz until the early morning hours and after wading through the crowds after the show we arrived back in our apartment around 2:15 am.
The next two days we visited the usual tourist spots including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, The Louvre and Arc de Triomph. The heatwave was in full swing by now and the 35 degree Celsius made it a bit too hot to venture too far from the shade. Despite the heat it was nice to suck in the atmosphere of the Paris streets by day and by night.
On our way out, we drove in one day from central Paris, bypassing Brussels, through the centre of Antwerpen to the centre of Amsterdam. The traffic in and around these cities and the highways between them is truly huge and frantic. It struck me more this time than ever before how tricky driving in Europe has become with its constantly changing speed limits, tricky right of way rules, bicycles everywhere (and yes they do have right of way in many cases), little streets coming in from every angle, etc.. Truth be told, I actually really liked the driving here, you just have to take it easy and go with the flow. It is a tiring affair nevertheless; I can see why many just stick to a bicycle and the excellent public transport facilities.