Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Boullion in the Semois Valley

We left Bastogne on our whirlwind overnight and headed southwest to Boullion, a beautiful town in the Semois Valley. So far, Boullion has been my favorite place of all the stops on our semester-long itinerary. This photo manages to capture all of the things we did in Boullion. You see the Semois River winding through the photo. The light tan building across the river is the Archeoscope which tells the story of Godfrey of Boullion. In the foreground you see the center courtyards of Godfrey's castle (I took the photo from the uppermost parapet), and in the courtyard you also see the blue bleachers where we sat to view a falconry demonstration. A most useful picture indeed.

So: the Archeoscope. It's really a great place to take kids before you visit Godfrey's castle. It was especially helpful for our group too because in 24 hours we had skipped around historical eras with alarming suddenness. Charlemagne...19th and 20th century coal miners...WW2 battlefields and now The Crusades?! A little orientation was most appreciated. Godefroid de Boullion was born in the 11th century and was a Crusader who sold his castle to pay for his crusade to the Holy Land, where he took the title Defender of Jerusalem (or something to that effect).

The Archeoscope experience is part film, part multimedia, part diorama. We walked through a dark room where a booming voice told us about (love it in French) Godefroid de Boullion (you've gotta say it out loud, gohd-FWAH duh bool-YOHN...French is fun). Then we went into the next room and got front row seats thanks to Mr. K's insider tip on where the exit from part I was located. We sat down and put on headphones, selected English and chose our volume level, and then a great little show unfolded on a stagelike area in front of us, with moving models and different projections showing the story of Godfrey and the castle. MeiMei noted that Godfrey and his wife "fell into love." I asked her last night what that means and she said "when you fall into love, you really want to hug each other."

JieJie listened pretty intently to the narration. MeiMei's head is a bit small and the headphones kept slipping off, but she did ok. We came out into a gift shop and John bought a great book of puzzles that depict life in a castle. It's in French, but he can read it to them so no matter.

We boarded the bus in the increasingly heavy rain and rode to the castle itself, then found a place to sit for a demonstration of the art of falconry. The falconer had owls, vultures and hawks that are trained to hunt smaller birds and other types of animals. Dogs are not allowed in the castle for this reason. One stubborn dog owner disregarded the rule and the owls apparently got both of his small dogs. The falconer said these were American owls and their names are Bill and Monica. Lovely. Anyway.

The rain picked up considerably and I dreaded another 2 hours in the bus with the girls, who obviously wouldn't be up for a tour through the cold wet castle. Mr. K generously offered to take them back to the bus and hang out with them and Rene the bus driver so I could tour the castle. It is one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me as a mom, and I almost wept with gratitude. The girls trotted happily off holding Mr. K's hands and we heard later that he bought them a candy bar, they played hide and seek in the bus, and just generally had a great time. Thanks Mr. K!!

John and I enjoyed the tour of the castle and the spectacular views from the parapets. I couldn't help thinking what a great trip it would be to tour the Semois Valley, by car, by boat, by bicycle, or even on foot, and stay at a little inn along the way. If you are looking for a quiet, idyllic, not-too-touristy place for a long weekend while you're in Belgium, allow me to recommend quaint, picturesque Boullion.

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