Friday, July 11, 2014

Carved From Sand: The Oostende Sand Sculpture Festival

Everybody's favorite little monster
I've lived near my share of beaches yet had never been to a sand castle festival before. I'm really not what I would consider a beach going person, usually visiting only one a year with friends,  so I chalk up my not attending one to the crowds, sun and heat that I associate with a summer time beach. But I'm living in Belgium now where country's beachfront property is limited to just a few kilometers along the North Sea (65 to be exact) and the sun and heat are fleeting summer visitors. So moderate temperatures and my son's love of Disney movies inspired us to visit the sand sculpture festival in Oostende, Belgium last weekend. And as it turned out, on a cool, windy and damp Saturday afternoon in July it was the perfect place to be.

Oostende is a Belgian beach resort sitting on the shores of the North Sea. We visited in early July when the seas were under yellow flag warnings, the lifeguards were bundled up in multiple layers and only a few brave soles were actually swimming in the rough water. (Belgium is not the place to visit if you want a beach vacation where you can actually go into the water).  But we weren't at the beach for the beach itself; we were there to check out the 8,000 square meters of Disney inspired sand sculptures that Belgian friends had told us was something we didn't want to miss.

From the moment we stepped into the fenced area protecting the sculptures from the brisk wind we knew we were in the land of Disney. The ubiquitous happy music that fills the air at all Disney parks was floating through the air. And the Disney movies, old and new, that we all love? They had been brought to life in the form of giant sand figures. We had kept Sidney in the dark about where we were going so he was immediately in awe as we stepped onto the beach and he came face to face with Mickey Mouse. Then he recognized the characters from Up...and Ratatouille..and Cars...and Mary Poppins. Around the corner we found the Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Snow White. For those of us old enough to remember there was Indiana Jones, Mark Twain, and the Swiss Family Robinson. Sidney scooted from one sculpture to another checking them all out and marveling at the over sized characters that he has only seen on the screen. (We're saving the required trip to Disney Paris for when he is a bit bigger). He was also enamored in watching the sand artists at work and promptly declared that he needed his own pail and sand to create his own castle.

And the intricate details? As an adult I was amazed at the level of details. No detail was too small for the artists who hail from around the world and descend on the beach each summer to turn 6,000 tons of sand into 3-D reproductions between 2 and 12 meters high. From the bark on trees to the hairs on the Lion King's mane the level of detail was impressive. Each shingle on the Disney castle was chiseled to perfection. Because of recent rains some of the works of art had been damaged so we were able to watch artists as they patched their work back together. With great care, sand and a bit of water they made repairs that blended in perfectly with the original works of art. And yes, these really are works of art. I'm not sure if I had a favorite as I liked them all. The boys in my family? Naturally they loved the Star Wars sculpture.

Finding Nemo
Winnie the Pooh and friends

The iconic castle


Peter Pan

The King of the Lions

and of course Star Wars........

The festival has been held annually since 1997 with over 5,000 sand sculptures being viewed by millions of visitors. And now we can include ourselves in those numbers. The sculptures will be on display until the end of August so there is still time to visit. Or if you can't make it this year (or you just want to see more as we do), you can visit next year. There really is something about Disney that brings out the child in all of us.

If you go:

Disneyland Paris Sand Magic
Strand Oostende
28 June - 31 August 2014 (check for future dates)
12 Euro for adults 8 Euro for children age 4 and over
Group discounts and handicap/stroller accessible

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