Trips to the Natural Science Museum & Pairi Daiza Zoo, Belgium
With temperatures unseasonably warm in February, we ventured out to quench our restless hearts with some animal-themed fun. It didn’t matter if the animals were dead (taxidermy displays) or alive (which way to the zoo?!), these kids wanted to see some wildlife! Willow and Didi have been obsessed with wolves lately, and ever since he saw the “screaming marmot” parody video, Beau was determined to find marmots. We had a running bet to see who could spot their favorite animals first…
We were able to score scheduled time slots and tickets to visit two popular sites nearby – the Natural Sciences Museum in Brussels for Willow’s birthday, and the “best zoo in Europe,” Pairi Daiza, just 20 minutes from our home. We had great masked family fun touring through the museum laden with taxidermy from all over the world (and dinosaurs!). The next weekend we perused about 40% of the zoo (it’s huge!) and enjoyed the great variety of land, air and sea animals inhabiting the themed regions at Pairi Daiza. Within a week, we had visited the zoo three times and managed to see most of what it has to offer. Right now there are several exhibits closed due to Covid 19 measures, and they’re also working on renovations throughout. I suspect there will be many changes to the zoo in 2021!
MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCES, BRUSSELS
The kids LOVE a good museum – history, science, children’s, you name it – and this one in Brussels did not disappoint! The museum is organized into sections based on the natural sciences of Entomology, Biology (Invertebrates, Vertebrates), Anthropology and Prehistory, Paleontology, and Geology. We wandered through the museum (woefully unprepared without snacks, as the food options were closed due to the pandemic – plan ahead!) and enjoyed learning about the planet, outer space, countless animals (some with questionable taxidermy), human and history displays, and of course, dinosaurs! We went as a late birthday event for Willow because we couldn’t get tickets for her actual birthday, so plan ahead and buy tickets in advance as space is limited during the Covid restrictions.
We first entered the museum at our scheduled time and grabbed a free locker and used the very nice facilities. We took note of the gift shop and noticed there were well organized paths on the map to keep people moving in one direction and socially distanced as much as possible. Right near the rest rooms was the massive Mineral Hall, among the first and founding exhibits to the museum. From there, we went up several flights of stairs to our next exhibit, the massive Gallery of Evolution at the tip the top of the museum. There were beautiful views out the gallery windows!
Next we moved into the Living Planet Exhibition, beautifully designed to teach visitors how animals interact, work together, and coexist. There were tons of animals and plenty of interactive exhibits inside this section of the museum.
This was probably our favorite section of the museum as we spent the most time here. This is also where Beau spotted his marmot – but not before the girls found their wolves! I was surprised by the whale bones; their sheer size is humbling!
The next exhibits, BiodiverCITY and 250 Years of Science gave us a glimpse into what microorganisms exist all around us and what will happen with different levels of human intrusion, as well as experiments and discoveries made by science over the last 250 years.
We didn’t have time to see the rare Mosasaur Dinosaur Hall, the Shell Hall or the Insect Hall because of our grumbling tummies, but we did move onto the Gallery of Humankind before our last stop at the Dino Gallery! The Gallery of Humankind was actually rather graphic. We could’ve spent a lot longer in there and made an entire World Schooling lesson out of it, but we knew we were losing steam without snacks.
So instead, we peeked at the real fetuses of various sizes in glass jars (which peaked more questions than we have time for), compared our grip strength to our ape ancestors, and took quick glances as the evolutionary bodies of history. The kids were intrigued by the skeletons (almost more than the well preserved mummies we have seen!) and asked great questions. It was fun to compare the human skeletons to what we saw next – dinosaurs!
When we reached the Dino Hall, it was beginning to get busy. It was after 13:00, and the hall is so large, it is an easy place for people to gather. Right away the kids noticed large bones the size of a big building and we identified them as brontosaurus leg bones. What a humbling sight! There was also a massive hall of iguanodons and plenty of our favorites like the TRex and triceratops. Willow has always loved dinosaurs so she was wide eyed and excited the entire time. I’d say it was a pretty successful birthday outing, pandemic and all!
Pairi Daiza, brugelette
We have always been big fans of the zoo, especially when it is evident they’re doing a good job with animal protection and conservation. The kids love learning about animals of the world in person, and it seems they have new “favorites” each time we go. Because we live so close to Pairi Daiza, and as it was named the “Best Zoo in Europe” recently two years in a row, we decided to snag season passes so we can go as often a we want, even if it’s just for a stroll, a trip to the playground, the gift shops, or some good food.
The most impressive part of the zoo are the various accommodations available inside the park, from gnome-like berm bungalows and cottages to a big main lodge and underwater rooms. Prices are steep for the package deal, but for people visiting from away, it’s probably worth the splurge as it includes meals and two full day passes to the park. This place is so huge you need at least two days to appreciate it all!
There are several unique Jardin des Mondes, or “garden of the worlds” in Pairi Daiza, all themed according to their region. Architecture, animals, and themed food make each world region come alive. Our favorite part about the park were all the wild storks in massive nests that reminded us of Hungary, as well as the wild peacocks that make their home here and wander about freely, showing off tail feathers. There is a petting zoo with farm animals, terrific gift shops (where I was able to restock my incense), and plenty of eateries and kiosks for food and snacks. The kids also keep their eyes peeled for bowls of birdseed they can scoop a handful of to feed the peacocks. Although wandering the worlds is the best way to rack up the steps, the kids are always looking forward to after, when they can be set free on the playground and get their fill of climbing, running, sliding and jumping!
The Kingdom of Ganesha is an Indonesian themed world where temples and statues depict the region’s main deities of worship. Asian elephants, orangutans, white tigers, komodo dragons, rare Sulawesi macaque monkeys, birds of Bali and more make up this world perched high on a hill. It is crowned with a large Balinese “flower temple,” depicting traditional Hindu culture and even a village of Timor cottages.
In the Middle Kingdom, Chinese temples, gardens, food and animals invite visitors to experience the heart of ancestral China. Fish and birds, including a coy fish touch pond, various mountain species, red pandas, Asian black bears, and the giant panda are among the big draws in this section of the park. The layout is beautiful, with walkways through a “path of healing,” connecting several islands, surrounded by water that expertly separates different animal groups. Here you can also experience a traditional Buddhist temple overlooking the park, or climb up two stories to the narrow suspension bridge that connects this area to the playground. Here in the Middle Kingdom you can also partake in a fish pedicure in the Cabinet of Dr. Yu!
The Land of the Cold and the Last Frontier are regions dedicated to the northern hemisphere and countries like Canada, Alaska in the United States, and Siberia. Here you can see the great Siberian tiger, polar bears, American bison, raccoons, reindeer and walruses as well as Eurasian brown bears, sea lions, grey wolves, deer, moose and the American black bear. This is also the area of the park where the resort is located, in case you want to spend Disney-level dollars and wake up with animals peeking at you through a large picture window. These regions also has great food options!
The Land of Origins is among my favorites, as it houses the great apes and giraffes. African design and architecture are honored in this centrally located region of the park with stilt houses and Temerba homes. Traditional African foods can be sampled while perusing the animals including cheetah, lion, lemurs, African elephants, giraffe, rhinos, wildebeests, lemurs, tortoise, hyena, zebra, ostrich and other African birds, various monkeys and gorilla, hippos, and hogs. This area is celebrated as the “cradle of civilization,” and visitors could spend an entire day here taking in the sights. I didn’t get many photos here, but you can learn more about this and other lands of the zoo here.
Cambron by Air and Cambron by Sea are original areas of the property dedicated to the Cambron Abbey, a 1,000 year old Cistercian abbey that has since been converted into this award winning zoo. Some of the buildings still remain – including the original Abbey building and crypt tower. These sections are dedicated to birds, seals and penguins, and are well appointed with sculptures and flowers in the gardens.
The Southern Cape is the last “world” creatively depicted in Pairi Daiza. Located in the center of the park adjacent to playground and Cambron by the Sea, the Southern Cape houses Australia’s famous wallaby, koala, kangaroo, wombat, and various exotic birds. From here you can take a break and let the kids go hog wild at the playground; it stretches over 200 meters with a sandy bottom and more playground options than anywhere around. It is easy to be socially distanced here, especially during the week! It is easy to see why this zoo has garnered so many awards. It is a sight to behold!
As corny as it sounds, getting out and about in the sunshine took US from dead to alive. The past few months have been grueling, and although we feel settled in our home, we still feel like foreigners here. Hopefully we can continue to explore more and get a feel for the area as we settle in for the long haul!