We eased into it on our first full day in Belgium. Cousin Mario (we'll call him that since my dad's a Mario, I'm Mario... it can get confusing quickly) with Catherine and their two daughters, Laura and Luna, hosted us in their home in Wavre - 30 minutes southeast of Brussels. For lunch, he drove us to nearby Louvain La Neuve - a small college town open only to pedestrian traffic. A banner announcing an upcoming expo immediately educated me on one of Belgium's two great cartoon exports (the other being Hergé's Tintin). They're not the Smurfs. They're Les Schtroumpfs (SH-TROOMPH. See how much easier that rolls off the tongue? Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford, better known as Peyo, invented them in the '50s, so we'll go with what he called 'em. Les Schtroumpfs it is!
Cousin Mario then drove us to Wavre's historic city center, where they had filled in the central square with sand for a surreal beach scene at the foot of the 500-year-old St. John the Baptist church. The kids frolicked, and we all soaked in the sun, which I'm told is not a frequent visitor.
Back at their home later, Mario and Catherine opened a bottle of something bubbly to toast our arrival. Ching and thump, our glasses and sippy cups collided.
The next day we soaked in the persistent rain for the full Brussels experience. We fired off a few photos of the kids by the famous Manneken Pis statue and took a soggy family portrait in the impossibly ornate Grand Place.
Of note, the Grand Place's centerpiece, the Town Hall building, is noticeably asymmetrical. The main door, for example, is distinctly off center. Legend has it that the architect jumped to his death from the building when he figured out his miscalculation. Deniz suspects the Guildhouses perpendicular to Town Hall, with bars on the floor levels, may have had something to do with the miscalculation. If so, the moral of the story could be: don't drink and build.
We ended up at the Smur - I mean - Schtroumpfs store. Here's the context. During Passport D.C., when most embassies are open to the public, we visited the Embassy of Belgium, where a humongous Smurf greeted us at the door. Love at first site for Aylin. Turns out, somewhere between growing up and now, Les Schtroumpfs fell out of vogue. We couldn't find a Smurfette anywhere. And finding Smurf-themed birthday stuff for her upcoming birthday? A no go. Ever practical, Aylin turned one of her Smurf slippers, which she received a few years back, into her lovie. Deniz and I are not too self conscious about too many things, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my daughter hugging and walking around with something that should be on her foot wasn't a little embarrassing. Needless to say, Aylin getting her Smurfette was a relief for all of us. And the wet excursion, totally worth it.