Space Craft, Safari, and Snow Domes
The attractions of Brussels and Brugges unfairly claim the vast share of tourist attention in Belgium. Throughout this small country, exciting museums and attractions are waiting to be discovered by family travelers. And because of Belgium’s small size, any of these can be visited as a day trip from the capital Brussels or the beloved city of Brugges.
Readers who enjoyed reading about Belgium’s unique summer festivals will not want to miss Belgium’s two museums touting festival themes: at La Maison des Géants, rue de Pintamont, 7800 ATH, Tel. 32 0 68 26 51 70, a family can mingle with Giants and even a Dragon, while learning oodles about Belgium’s festival traditions. Le Musée International du Carnaval et du Masque, 10 rue Saint-Moustier, BINCHE, Tel. 32 064 3357 41, explores the carnival traditions of Europe and the intrigue of masks as expressed across five continents.
The most engaging space museum in Europe is in Transinne, Belgium. The Eurospace Center and Space Show, rue Devant les Hetres 1, TRANSINNE, Tel. 3261 65 6465, firstname.lastname@example.org, sends children 10-18 hurtling through “outer space” where they deploy satellites, dock with a space station and return to Earth. But they do this only after completing a rigorous training course that challenges them to conquer weightless walking, spin ad nauseum on the multi-axis and rotating chairs, sacrifice movement to within “5 degrees of freedom,” steer the Manned Maneuvering Unit and feel the effects of simulated micro gravity. A minimum group of fifteen is required to engage in this VIP space fantasy, but how hard do you think it will be to find those budding astronauts in a space museum? For adult family members and others intrigued by outer space but not astronautically inclined, the museum exhibits are also captivating. They include a model of Columbus- the European space lab- and the international space station, an American shuttle, Mir, and Meteostat, which displays real time weather above Europe. In the Temple of the Planets, visitors can explore the mysteries of deep space, or watch a fun show narrated by Belgian astronaut Dirk Frimout.
MondeSauvageSafari Park, Fange de Deigné 3, AWYAILLE, Tel. 32 (0) 4/360 90 70,and Grottoes de Remouchamp, Rue de Louveigné 3, 4920 REMOUCHAMPS, Tel. 32 (0) 4/360 90 70 are an easy combination day trip from Brussels. Take your family on a safari! Animals roam freely (enough) as visitors drive through or ride by in the visitor train. Spot elephants, giraffes, ostriches, rhinoceroses, camels and more. Separate sections of the zoo allow leisurely strolling past the dens of polar bears, wapitis, lemurs, and prairie dogs. Tricks abound in the 30 minute otaries’ (eared seals) performance. For the little ones in the family, there’s a farm animal petting zoo. The grottoes may be visited independently of the safari park, but the combination trip discount makes a dual visit attractive. Your family is guaranteed to “go batty! The 1 ¼ hour excursion with multilingual guides will allow you to trek through stunning caves on foot to see a stalagmite resembling Madonna and child, colorful crystals, dramatic chambers and some of the 900 bats which flutter about and hang upended in the caves. Then, your family will return to the entrance by boat via the longest underground navigable river in the world.
For bird lovers, Parc Paradisio, Domaine de Cambron, BRUGELETTE, Tel. 32 (0) 68 250 850, is the place to see them. The Parc is open 7 days weekly. This amazing aviary housing over 3,000 feathered friends claims the distinction of largest aviary in Europe. Besides the aviary, Parc Paradiso features extraordinary gardens, a submarine cave, an Amazon exhibit, monkeys and giant tortoises. Don’t miss the spectacular and unique climbing structures for kids, worth a visit in themselves! These immense rope and metal constructions are so high that safety nets are used for protection.
A slightly more distant zoo choice from Brussels, Olmense Zoo, Bukenberg 45, OLMEN-BALEN, Tel. 014 30 98 82, specializes in cheetah breeding. This zoo’s features include an African savannah and an animal circus which the younger family members are sure to find awesome.
Drooping in the summer sun? Belgium has the answer– snow domes! All the rage in Europe and catching on in popularity elsewhere, these indoor Alpine sports centers enable your family to ski, snow board or tube year round on a refreshingly frigid surface of crushed ice. All of Belgium’s snowdomes offer equipment rentals, lessons, and stores selling those essential hats and mittens you may have neglected to pack for a summer trip. Indoor Skibaan Casablanca, Wouwerstraat 15, GRAVENWEZEL, Tel. 03 658 52 06, was the first snow dome created in Europe. There, tennis, biking, horseback riding and a playground are available for any non-snow sport enthusiasts in the family. SnowValley, Deusterstraat 74, PEER, Tel. 011 61 1490 also has an indoor play center for kids.
Eight miles outside Brugges, Seafront Zeebrugge, Vismijhstraat 7, 8380 ZEEBRUGGE, Tel. 32 0 50 55 145, beckons. Take the helm of Lightship West Hinder. In past times, lightships were used as navigational aids in spots light houses could not be built. Used to warn ships of maritime hazards and to assist the sailor in identifying his position, each ship was painted a vivid color with the name of its location in broad white letters. The crew was charged with keeping the ship soundly anchored, maintaining the signaling system, bleating the foghorn when the weather demanded it, and even firing off warning shots if necessary to alert ships in danger. These ships also acted as primitive meteorology stations. In the days before instant messaging, or even wireless radio, lightship crews relied on carrier pigeons to deliver emergency information to shore. Along came the wireless, and the hapless pigeons were forced to seek other employment. (Maybe that’s why you see so many on the big town squares: they’re unemployed!)
Also on the Zeebrugge seafront, eight miles outside Brugges, take your family to investigate a Foxtrot class Russian submarine, rejoicing not to be one of 75 submariners submerged in these close quarters for three long months. Wander through the old dockyard and hear tales of the fisherman-of-old’s life at sea. Watch a demonstration fish auction. In the museum, survey the seafaring exhibits.
And while “in the neighborhood,” of Brugges, why not drive along the shore to discover Belgium’s three simply charming lighthouses. They mark a thirty mile stretch of the North Sea shore. The two for one special is Hoog Licht, an old fashioned, retired brick lighthouse that has become a national historic site and stands in a field not far from the less interesting Laag Licht, in HEIST. The NIEUWPOORT Licht, is postcard pretty, a clapboard square brown house with a tower rising from it. In the most unusual design category, the OOSTENDE Licht wears two blue bands which dip and rise as they round the white tower. This lighthouse is in operation today.
These fascinating family attractions are all within day-tripping distance of the capital Brussels and the heavily touristed city of Brugges.