Returning back to Brussels from the States last week was hard. Stepping off the plane from Atlanta, I stepped into a line of some 300 people waiting to pass Belgian immigration. 45 minutes later, I emerged into a baggage claim so full, I couldn’t find D or my luggage. And then the bus door closed on my arm as we got on the express line into the city. The bus was so crowded that D and I were separated on opposite sides of the bus for the 45 minute ride into town and I knew I was going straight to the office which was already in full-swing craziness after the summer.
Feelings have a way of sneaking up on me and I’ll admit I gave into a few homesick tears on that bus ride. Every time I come back, I miss the States. Every time I’m in the States, I realise its so different from the country I left some nine years ago. Then a few days pass and Brussels usually feels like home once more.
All of this probably explains why I was so happy when D suggested we have an “adventure day”. I needed a reason to get happy about Belgium again. The challenge was – what new adventures could be found in this country I’ve living in for so long?
I turned to my trusty friend “Google”. And after a series of fruitless (and, quite frankly, boring) search results, I found it: The CheeseWeb article on Pairi Daiza Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
Something you should know about me: I love zoos. Always have. Pretty sure I always will. Part of me is still that eleven-year-old who was sure she was going to become a marine biologist until she realised she lived in land-locked Minnesota and hated math. Remember “Free Willy”? I was on that bandwagon long before that movie came out.
Pairi Daiza is the best zoo I have ever been to, if you can even call it a zoo. In the middle of Wallonia, you find yourself wandering between continents, gaping at gorgeous landscaping and getting a closer look at animals than in a traditional zoo (D sneakily touched a meercat…) It doesn’t have that “kitch” feeling that a Disney Land or a theme park has, yet it is just as big and diverse.
The park is divided into eight “worlds” – ranging from Europe to China to Africa, from Hindu temples to tropical forests, from bird havens to an indoor safari. There is a petting zoo with a baby deer. Fields of rice paddies. An aquarium. Suspended bridges. Free ranging birds so close you can touch them. And a spooky bat cave. But its not just the animals and the gardens that make the place. The farther away you walk from the entrance, the architecture, art and pictures change and transport you in a way so you feel – just for a minute – like you aren’t in Belgium anymore but rather somewhere far away.
Poor Thelma must be exhausted.I went ridiculously snap-happy walking around this place and took so many pictures I can’t fit them all in this post. So stay turned for part 2 which includes a stroll around Africa, some frisky meercats and the part where I PET A GIRAFFE! Just like Cheeseweb, this was the highlight of the whole visit.
For more information on Pairi Daiza, check out their awesome website. Tickets run at around 24 euros, which quite frankly, I considered a very good deal for the size of the place. We didn’t fit everything in! If you plan to go back more than once in a season, buy the season pass for 45 euros. Bring a picnic lunch…the food isn’t spectacular and will cost you a pretty penny. And there are tons of great spots for a picnic.
Happy Monday all,